Pakistani journalist escapes armed kidnappers en route to airport

By Sara Shayanian  |  Jan. 10, 2018 at 9:35 AM
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Jan. 10 (UPI) -- A prominent Pakistani journalist said he escaped an armed kidnapping attempt Wednesday, as he was on his way to the airport in Islamabad.

Taha Siddiqui, 33, a correspondent for the France24 news channel, said multiple gunmen beat and threatened him as he rode to the airport in a taxi.

"They started beating me and threatening to shoot me," Siddiqui told Al Jazeera. "They were cordoning off the road, armed with rifles, and the men who pulled me out of the car, they had small weapons, pistols."

The journalist said he escaped by lunging for an unlocked door in the backseat of the cab, rushed out into oncoming traffic and jumped into the nearest taxi -- giving the driver $10 to speed off.

Siddiqui told BBC News he was "still in shock" and received minor wounds to his arms and legs, as well as a scratch on his face. He promised he would not be silenced by the violent assault.

Rizwan Ahmed, the driver of the vehicle Siddiqui was abducted from, corroborated his story.

"They put a Kalashnikov [rifle] to my head ... I was told to turn away," Ahmed said.

Siddiqui said he was beat by the attackers on the road when a military patrol vehicle slowly drove by and saw the attack.

"I looked at them and pleaded to them to save me ... I cried and shouted. They did not stop," he said.

Siddiqui is an outspoken critic of Pakistan's military, which has ruled the country for 70 years and holds great influence over foreign and political affairs. In December, he reported on threats to journalists in Pakistan.

According to the report, Siddiqui was notified his name was on a Federal Investigation Agency list of journalists who criticize the military -- even receiving calls from government agencies wanting to discuss his work.

"I immediately knew where the pressure was coming from," he said, adding he could "hardly do any serious journalism without talking about the military, which has an extensive footprint in the country beyond its mandate."

"What bothers me is not the officials, but how my family and friends are now putting pressure on me to go silent."

Pakistan is ranked 139 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index in 2017.

"The Pakistani media are regarded as among the freest in Asia but are targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organisations, and the feared intelligence agencies, all of which are on RSF's list of Predators of Press Freedom," Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index said on Pakistan.

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