Journalist Taha Siddiqui known for criticising Pakistan's military establishment says he had escaped an abduction attempt after being assaulted by armed men in Islamabad.
A Pakistani journalist, Taha Siddiqui known for criticising his country's military establishment on social media, said on Wednesday he had narrowly escaped being kidnapped by armed men, in an incident that came months after he complained of being harassed by security services.
Siddiqui, who reports for France 24 and is the Pakistan bureau chief of Indian television channel WION, said the attempted abduction took place while he was being driven by taxi to the airport serving the capital Islamabad and the neighbouring, larger garrison city of Rawalpindi.
"I was on my way to airport today at 8:20 am when 10-12 armed men stopped my cab & forcibly tried to abduct me. I managed to escape. Safe and with police now," Siddiqui tweeted from the Twitter account of friend, who is also a well-known journalist, early in the morning.
"Looking for support in any way possible #StopEnforcedDisappearances," he added in the same tweet.
This is Taha Siddiqui (@TahaSSiddiqui) using Cyrils a/c. I was on my way to airport today at 8:20am whn 10-12 armed men stopped my cab & forcibly tried to abduct me. I managed to escape. Safe and with police now. Looking for support in any way possible #StopEnforcedDisappearances— cyril almeida (@cyalm) January 10, 2018
The attack comes months after prominent reporter Ahmed Noorani was also savagely beaten and stabbed in the head after being dragged out of his car in Islamabad by armed assailants.
Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists said "Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency should stop harassing Taha Siddiqui", referring to the civilian agency that last year began a crackdown on online criticism of the powerful military.
Siddiqui last year filed a court petition to stop the agency from harassing him.
'Threatened to kill'
Siddiqui spoke to Reuters from a police station where he was filing a report on the incident, and described how his taxi was stopped on the highway when another vehicle swerved, and braked suddenly in front of it.
About a dozen men armed with rifles and revolvers pulled him out of the cab, beat him and "threatened to kill" him.
"They threw me in the back of the vehicle in which I had been travelling, but the door on the other side was open," Siddiqui said.
"I jumped out and ran and was able to get into a taxi that was nearby, whose driver then floored it."
Taha Siddiqui, a Pakistani journalist, was beaten and threatened, and only escaped by running through oncoming traffic. pic.twitter.com/odsasHDa85— Asad Hashim (@AsadHashim) January 10, 2018
In a police statement, seen by Reuters, Siddiqui said during the kidnap attempt he appealed for help from a military vehicle that was passing by.
"I saw a military vehicle and shouted for help but one of the abductors gestured (the vehicle) to move on and they did," Siddiqui said in the police statement, adding he had previously been "intimidated" by civilian and military security officials.
Siddiqui pleaded with police to help him recover his personal belongings - laptop computer, phone, hard drives, passport and suitcase - and provide him and his family with "police protection".
"My life is under threat," he said in the statement.
BREAKING: @WIONews Pakistan Bureau Chief @TahaSSiddiqui attacked for fearless journalism today. A dozen armed men attacked Taha in Islamabad and his phone, laptop & passport taken while he was on his way to the airport. Who wants to silence Taha?#StopEnforcedDisappearances #WION— Archith Seshadri (@ArchithNEWS) January 10, 2018
Concerns over disappearances
Pakistan has a long history of enforced disappearances, particularly in conflict zones near the border with Afghanistan.
More than 1,500 people are still missing in disappearance cases, according to data compiled by Pakistan's commission of inquiry on enforced disappearances published this month.
Rights groups have denounced the kidnappings of several social media activists over the past year as attempts to intimidate and silence critics of the Pakistan's security establishment.
"This is extremely worrying and reinforces the fear that human rights groups and media organisations have voiced for a while now that the Pakistan government views violence as an instrument of dealing with dissenting voices," Human Rights Watch country representative Saroop Ijaz told AFP.
"This is also a reflection of the impunity that has existed for a long time, and has been increasing recently," he added.
The Rawalpindi Islamabad Union of Journalists said it had contacted Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal "to direct the concerned officials to investigate the incident of attempted kidnapping of a senior journalist".
Last year, five Pakistani bloggers went missing for several weeks before four of them were released. All four fled abroad and two afterwards told media that they were tortured by a state intelligence agency during their disappearance.
The military has staunchly denied playing a role in any enforced disappearances, as has the civilian government. In the past, militants have also targeted journalists.
In restive southwestern Balochistan province, several newspapers have also shuttered their presses for months after receiving myriad threats from militant groups.