Well-known Pakistani reporter narrowly escapes kidnap attempt

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Pakistani authorities to do whatever is necessary to guarantee the safety of Taha Siddiqui, a well-known and courageous freelance journalist who narrowly escaped a kidnap attempt this morning in the capital, Islamabad.

Taha Siddiqui was on his way to the airport when, at around 8:20 a.m., a vehicle swerved in front of his taxi and forced it to stop. Ten or twelve gunmen got out of this and another vehicle, pointed a Kalashnikov at the taxi driver and pulled Siddiqui from the taxi. They then threw him to the ground, beat him and threatened to shoot him if he continued to resist.

Siddiqui nonetheless managed to get away by running across the expressway and flagging down another taxi in which he rode for a few kilometres and then sought refuge in a police station.

“This kidnap attempt is extremely worrying in a country where the lack of security for journalists and impunity for crimes of violence against them is a structural problem,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“Although Siddiqui has been harassed and threatened for months, he is a courageous journalist whose investigative reporting has never hesitated to implicate the military when appropriate, although criticizing the armed forces is very dangerous for journalists in Pakistan. We urge the authorities to make every effort to guarantee his safety.”

Last May, Siddiqui received several threatening phone calls from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), an interior ministry offshoot, in which he was repeatedly ordered to report to the FIA’s counter-terrorism department for questioning. Siddiqui refused to go, fearing that he might be kidnapped – a fear that today’s events show was well-founded.

A very well-known reporter, Siddiqui is the Babel Press bureau chief in Islamabad, a position that includes being the correspondent of France 24 and World Is One News (WOIN), an Indian TV channel. He also freelances for the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel, often covering stories involving terrorism, persecuted minorities and corruption.

But the army is a state within the state in Pakistan and it is often impossible for the media to cover a story properly with mentioning the military, resulting in frequent cases of intimidation of journalists.

After five citizen-journalists went missing for three weeks last January, three of them later made it clear that they had been kidnapped by members of the military, who had interrogated them and tortured them in connection with their reporting.

Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.