On Wednesday morning, journalist Taha Siddiqui was travelling to the airport in Islamabad in a taxi, when he narrowly escaped an abduction attempt.
Siddiqui is an award-winning journalist, who works for France 24 and is the Pakistan bureau chief of Indian television channel WION. He has previously written for the New York Times.
Journalists and activists operating in Pakistan face additional pressures. Enforced disappearances, kidnappings, militant threats, and sensitivities around blasphemy that can lead to mob violence combine to make reporting a delicate – and much needed – endeavour.
A vehicle blocked the path of Siddiqui’s taxi and another boxed it in from behind. Around a dozen men carrying rifles and small arms surrounded the car and dragged him out.
Siddiqui was reportedly assaulted and the keys to the taxi were taken from the driver. One of the gunmen put the journalist in a headlock, while others were “saying ‘shoot him if he resists’ – in English – and then they said ‘shoot him in his leg’.”
Siddiqui was put then back in the taxi he had been travelling in. He noticed the door on the opposite side was unlocked, and after feigning compliance for a few moments, he managed to escape through that door and ran.
The Guardian reports that after escaping the initial taxi, Siddiqui attempted to wave down a military vehicle –
“I yelled and screamed at them to help me because I was being kidnapped, but a heavy-looking guy who was well dressed told the military vehicle to move forth,” he said. “They seemed to know each other.”
Reuters adds that this detail is in the statement Siddiqui made to the police. This is significant, given that the abductors were in unmarked vehicles and not wearing any uniforms.
After escaping the cab, Siddiqui fled in to oncoming traffic and flagged down a taxi. Al Jazeera found the driver of the second taxi –
“I gave the man Rs1,000 ($10) and told him to drive on, and that I was being chased by attackers,” he told Al Jazeera.
Rizwan Ahmed, the driver of the vehicle Siddiqui was abducted from, corroborated the journalist’s version of events to Al Jazeera, saying his vehicle was forced to stop by another car that repeatedly braked suddenly in front of them.
“They put a Kalashnikov [rifle] to my head … I was told to turn away,” he said.
The Guardian reports that Siddiqui then ‘ran on foot through an empty lot and ditches to reach a marble factory, where a labourer agreed to drive him to Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.’
The New York Times notes that at some point, Siddiqui ‘threw off his bright red sweater as he jumped into a ditch and crawled through mud and shrubs‘. In Islamabad he was able to contact the police and register the case.
Harassment, protection, and missing belongings
Siddiqui claims he had previously experienced harassment from the security services, which many link to his reporting.
According to the Telegraph, Siddiqui does not expect much to come from the police case. CCTV cameras in the area were not working at the time and ‘when he asked a police official to keep him abreast of developments in the case, “he just laughed”.’
Despite the lack of faith, Siddiqui has asked for police protection and for law enforcement to help recover his belongings – laptop, phone, hard drive, passport and suitcase – that were in the cab at the time of his abduction.
- Reuters: Anti-establishment Pakistani journalist escapes kidnap attempt
- The Nation: Award-winning Pakistani journalist escapes kidnap attempt
- The Daily Telegraph: Pakistan journalist narrowly escapes ‘abduction’ by security forces
- The Guardian: Pakistani journalist who criticised military tells of attempted abduction
- FRANCE 24: Fleeing into oncoming traffic, Pakistani journalist escapes abductors
- Aljazeera: Journalist Taha Siddiqui escapes abduction attempt
- Geo News: Journalist Taha Siddiqui escapes abduction in Islamabad; interior minister takes notice
- New York Times: ‘The New Normal’ in Pakistan: a Journalist on the Run From Gunmen
- BBC News: Pakistan reporter Taha Siddiqui flees armed abductors
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