New York, January 10, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists urges Pakistani authorities to investigate today’s attempted abduction of journalist Taha Siddiqui, and prosecute the perpetrators.
Siddiqui, the Pakistani bureau chief for the New Delhi-based television channel World Is One News, was in Islamabad on his way to the airport when 10 to 12 men stopped his car on the highway, beat him, and threatened him. The group of men then attempted to abduct the journalist, according to Siddiqui, who spoke at a press conference, and gave interviews to news outlets.
A Pakistani national, Siddiqui has been a vocal critic of Pakistan’s military, and several months ago complained of being harassed by the country’s security service, Reuters reported.
“This brazen attempt to abduct journalist Taha Siddiqui on a busy highway in broad daylight suggests the perpetrators have no fear of facing any consequences,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Pakistani authorities must end these lawless attacks against journalists and freedom of expression.”
Speaking at a press conference at the National Press Club in Islamabad today, Siddiqui said he was traveling to the airport in a taxi at around 8 a.m. when a car overtook his taxi, forcing it to stop. Four men in plains clothes got out of the car, carrying rifles and a pistol. Siddiqui said at first he thought it was a road rage incident. One of the men asked Siddiqui, “What do you think of yourself, do you think you’re somebody?” Siddiqui said he then realized that it was an abduction attempt.
Siddiqui said the men hit and pushed him with their hands and threatened multiple times to shoot him. The journalist said that vehicles were passing during the attack, including a military ranger who saw him and kept moving.
As he was trying to escape from the taxi, Siddiqui said he noticed another car of men had arrived and blocked off the surrounding area.
The journalist said he eventually managed to get out of the car, ran into oncoming traffic, and jumped in a taxi. The journalist then hid in ditches along the Islamabad highway before he made it to a service road. He then took another taxi to Koral Police Station where he filed a First Information Report (FIR), a police document filed at the start of an investigation in Pakistan, according to Siddiqui.
Mustafa Tanveer, police superintendent, confirmed Siddiqui approached police after the attack, according to Dawn. CPJ was unable to determine if police registered the FIR, which they have to do before conducting an investigation.
Siddiqui said he believed his attackers knew that he was on his way to the airport, and had orchestrated this assault because they knew it would take longer for people to realize he was missing as he was supposed to be in transit.
The journalist said his attackers spoke to him in both Urdu and English and were well-organized. Given past cases of abductions, Siddiqui said he suspected that state authorities were behind the attempt, but did not have proof and asked police to investigate. Siddiqui left his passport, luggage, and phone in the taxi when he escaped, and none of them have been recovered, according to the journalist.
The spokesperson for Pakistan’s intelligence service did not respond to a request for comment about the attack on Siddiqui from the Associated Press.
CPJ was unable to reach Islamabad’s Koral police precinct, where Siddiqui said he filed the FIR, for comment.
“I’m still in shock, I don’t know how I escaped,” Siddiqui said during the press conference. “I think the idea is to silence me…When they were trying to take me away I would rather have wanted them to shoot me because I don’t want to be a missing person…so that people can see what they do when you stand up for a cause here, for freedom of speech here.”
In May 2017, CPJ called on Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency to stop harassing Siddiqui, after he received a summons for questioning at its counter-terrorism department. The summons arrived despite a decision by the Islamabad High Court restraining the agency from harassing Siddiqui.