Umar Cheema
Umar Cheema

Movement in Umar Cheema’s case ‘frustratingly slow’

On Wednesday, we identified Pakistan as the country where the most journalists–eight–have been killed for their work in the past year. Six of them were on the job when they were killed in crossfire or a suicide bombing. Two others were assassinated.

I’ve been posting reports on one journalist–Umar Cheema–who wasn’t killed, but whose case represents the other ugly reality, that the killings and abductions of journalists go uninvestigated in Pakistan. We rank Pakistan as 10th worst in the world when it comes to investigating journalists’ deaths. The other pieces on Cheema can be found here.

Cheema had last messaged me in the first week of November, and I got an update from him earlier this week. Here’s what he says about what he calls the “frustratingly slow pace of the investigation into my abduction and torture” on September 4 and 5 outside Islamabad:

The criminal investigation [being conducted by a Joint Investigation Team (JIT)] is making no headway. The forensic evidence collected a few days after my incident, has been dumped at the Interior Ministry, and not sent to National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) for examination. If NADRA isn’t doing the investigation, it means that the JIT is not taking the investigation seriously. The reason for my skepticism: There was a considerable delay in collecting the evidence, like fingerprints from my car. Really, that evidence was only gathered a few days later under pressure from the media at the time. Privately, JIT people say there is no more progress beyond what I was told at the beginning of the investigation.

As far as the Judicial Commission that was also investigating the case, the report it sent two weeks ago to the Interior Ministry is likely to be thrown in the dustbin. It was supposed to contain recommendations for the basis of legislation that would bring the intelligence agencies under the scrutiny of a parliamentary committee. Probably due to these reasons, the report is being held as a top secret. I have no idea what the report contains.

What happened to the commission’s report about my case is the same thing that happened to the report about Hayatullah Khan that was done after he was killed in June 2006, after having been abducted in December 2005. A judicial inquiry was done, but never made public.

CPJ has written extensively about the Khan case; some of the links can be found here, here, here, and here. The largest difference between Khan’s case and Cheema’s is that Cheema was not gunned down later.

In his e-mail, Cheema also described the failure of parliament to investigate his case, even though there were several movements made on the floor to look into it when he was attacked. He also says that the two standing committees on human rights in the Senate and the National Assembly have not taken up his case.

As a working journalist, Umar remains committed in a steady, sensible manner to bringing justice not just in his case, but for all the people whose killings or abductions have gone uninvestigated over the years. At the end of our most recent e-mail exchange he sent me a link to a story he wrote Thursday. In “How intelligence agencies should be kept under check,” he reviews a study on the best oversight practices in many democracies, some new, some old, all being run by parliamentary and presidential systems–just as Pakistan is. Maybe it should be mandatory reading in Islamabad.