ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad-based journalist, Taha Siddiqui, on Wednesday narrowly escaped being kidnapped by armed men, in an incident that came months after he complained of being harassed by security services.
After the incident, Siddiqui went to the police station and narrated the entire episode to a foreign news agency on the phone from the station.
He described how his taxi was stopped on the highway when another vehicle veered and braked 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,” he tweeted through the Twitter handle of journalist Cyril Almeida.
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
Following the reports of the incident, Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal also took a notice of the alleged attempt to kidnap journalist Siddiqui and sought a report of the incident from IG Islamabad.
However, despite the passage of several hours, the capital police have not initiated investigations as they were waiting for a medico-legal certificate at the time when this report was compiled. Koral PS Station House Officer (SHO) Abdul Ghafoor told Pakistan Today that there were no updates as of yet. He said the police did not receive the CCTV footage from the safe city project.
“A formal complaint has been registered and FIR would be register afterwards. However, the Matter is not that simple, there seems something ‘fishy’ in his statement,” he said.
Talking to Pakistan Today, a senior police officer of Islamabad Police said that this is his [Siddiqui’s] version that he managed to escape and the abductors ‘belonged’ to the state agencies. “However, police will investigate the matter that how come it happens. The police will also take videos from the safe city authorities,” the officer added.
Siddiqui, visibly shaken from the encounter, suffered minor wounds to his arms and legs, as well as scratches on his face. Later in the day while addressing a press conference at National Press Club, he said: “I was on my way to the airport today (Wednesday) at around 8:20 am when 10-12 armed men stopped my cab and forcibly tried to abduct me. However, I managed to escape.”
Over his dramatic escape from the situation, he told reporters that being a field reporter and having 12-year-experience, he knows well how to manage survival in these circumstances.
“I used my mind then, I have a little bit training too.”
Alluding to the incident, Siddiqui said that ‘abductors’ were wearing plainclothes and dragged him out the car, screaming at him in English: “What do you think of yourself”? They dragged him on the ground on the main road, kicking and beating him and even threatened to shoot him, he claimed.
Following the escape, the journalist made his way to the nearby Khanna police station. Khanna police then accompanied him to the Koral police station, in whose jurisdiction the incident took place, and have been very cooperative in recording Siddiqui’s statement and examining the facts of the case.
In a police statement, quoted 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 also expressed reservations about his family’s safety. He said that his family was also under threats, adding if the authority has any doubt [regarding his version] they can call upon Rizwan Ahmed, the driver of the vehicle, who will corroborate the facts pertaining to the incident.
The would-be abductors managed to deprive the journalist of all his belongings, including his cellphone, passport, laptop and other technical equipment.
Taha Siddiqui, 33, is an award-winning journalist and Pakistan correspondent for the Paris-based France24 English language news television channel, and has reported for major media outlets such as the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian and Bureau chief Pakistan of WION, Indian news channel.
He was previously summoned by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to answer for Twitter posts they considered to be critical of the military. However, Taha refused to answer the summons unless he was formally charged, and filed a petition with the Islamabad High Court against further harassment by the authorities.
In May, the court issued an order restraining the FIA from further harassing Siddiqui without concrete evidence. Hearings in the case continue.