Pakistani journalist alleges government abduction

New York, September 18, 2007— An abducted Pakistani journalist alleged that he was kidnapped by government agents a few days ago and released after questioning. Babar Hussain, a reporter for Dawn TV, was grabbed near his home in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, by three men in a two-door cream-colored Pajero—a vehicle favored by government intelligence agencies, according to many local journalists—around 9:30 Saturday evening. Based on the nature of the questions, Hussain believes the men who interrogated him were government agents.

Hussain was driven blindfolded for three or four hours and held in a small room. He was released Monday, around 1 p.m., in a remote area about eight hours outside the capital. His abductors told him not to remove his blindfold until they had driven away.

“Pakistani authorities are again alleged to have stepped beyond their authority and interfered with a journalist doing his job,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “These allegations must be thoroughly investigated. Such abductions have become a pattern that keeps repeating itself in Pakistan. This time our colleague Babar Hussain was released relatively unharmed—but too often in the past such abductions have resulted in beatings or deaths.”

Hussain told CPJ he was not beaten, but was questioned about his background. His most recent report was about a suicide attack on an army outpost on in northwestern Pakistan on September 13 that killed 16 commandos of an elite counterterrorism force at a high-security army camp in Tarbela.

“We had managed to reach the site of the bombing, and the police were suspicious because they did not recognize me,” Hussain told CPJ. He had recently stared working as a field reporter after working on the news desk of an Urdu-language paper, Ausaf. “They held me for two days, but they did not torture or beat me. They wanted to know my family background and asked me about my knowledge of the bombing, if I had any army contacts or if I had ever traveled to India.”

Hussain said the men did not identify themselves, but he assumes his abductors were government intelligence agents. His colleagues at Dawn advised him not to return home for awhile, he said. Abductions and disappearances of journalists are common in Pakistan, some lasting for a few weeks or months. 

Since a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists met with the government including Minister for Interior Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao in July 2006 to complain about uninvestigated the abductions, attacks and deaths of journalists, at least six more journalists have either been grabbed or beaten and three more killed. No one has been arrested in any of the cases, and little or no investigation has been carried out.

As Pakistan’s political crisis has deepened, government pressure on journalists has ramped up. On September 11, two reporters, Fakhar ur Rehman, the defense correspondent for Aaj TV who also works for the U.S. television network NBC and Turkish National TV, and cameraman Talat Farooq, were beaten by airport authorities as they covered the arrival of former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif. On September 14, Hassan Sharjil, the 14-year-old son of prominent journalist Shakil Ahmad Turabi, editor-in-chief of the South Asian News Agency, was beaten by a man outside his school today as he was dropped off for classes. The attack was clearly in retribution for his father’s work as a journalist.