Men in police uniforms abduct and beat Pakistani journalist

New York, September 8, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the Pakistani government to thoroughly investigate the kidnapping and beating of Umar Cheema, a correspondent of the English-language daily The News in Islamabad. Men in police uniforms seized Cheema while he was driving in a suburb of Islamabad on Saturday, according to local and international media reports.

The well-known political reporter was held captive for more than six hours. He was dropped, bound, near his car, where he had been picked up earlier. His abductors told him to stop writing articles critical of the government, Cheema told several Pakistani papers and television stations after his release. Some reports said his captors mentioned other media outlets whose reporters would meet the same fate as Cheema.

The News published an account of what happened. “I was held in illegal captivity for six hours during which I was continuously tortured and humiliated in the nude,” he said. “They stripped me out of my clothes, hung me upside down and shaved off my head and moustaches.” The paper also listed stories he had written in recent months that were critical of the government.

Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani called Cheema to assure him the attack would be investigated.

“Pakistan’s record of bringing those who would beat or kill journalists to justice is abysmal,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We ask that the prime minister’s promise be carried out, and that those who tortured and sought to humiliate Umar Cheema are brought to justice. This must not become another attack that passes without consequences in Pakistan.”

Pakistani authorities, including the prime minister, have told Cheema and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists that the government played no part in his abduction, according to the union.

In a widely reprinted editorial, the English-language daily Dawn said: “No half-hearted police measures or words of consolation from the highest offices in the land will suffice in the aftermath of the brutal treatment meted out to journalist Umar Cheema of The News. This paper’s stand is clear: the government and its intelligence agencies will be considered guilty until they can prove their innocence.”