Pakistan witnessed yet another blow to the state of free speech in the country with the attempted kidnapping of renowned journalist, Taha Siddiqui. Taha was traveling to the airport in Islamabad when about a dozen armed men stopped his cab and attempted to kidnap him. Taha, however, managed to escape with minor injuries when he broke free from the car, walking away through the rush of traffic. After escaping the attempted abduction Taha used his fellow journalist Cyril Almeida’s account to report what had happened.
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
— Asad Hashim (@AsadHashim) January 10, 2018
Taha is an award-winning journalist who won the Albert Londres Prize, France’s highest journalism award in 2014. It is awarded to two candidates every year, which speaks of Taha’s competence as a journalist who is recognized worldwide. Other than local journalism he also writes for France 24.
Taha is known for his criticism of the military establishment. In the past, he has complained of harassment by authorities, quite possibly for his outspokenness. He even filed a petition last May at Islamabad High Court (IHC) alleging that the FIA was harassing him. Taha alleged that Noman Bodla, a man who identified himself as a member of the counter-terrorism department kept pressurizing the journalist to come in for interrogation at the FIA headquarters. IHC ordered FIA to stop contacting Taha for interrogation.
But it clearly did not stop there. Owing to his work one can see why he is a likely target for abduction. It is certainly not the first time establishment has tried to silence critique against itself.
There are many others like Taha, not lucky enough to escape their abductors
Pakistan has a terrible track record of enforced disappearances. Amnesty International reported that Pakistan’s Commission on Inquiry of Enforced Disappearances received nearly 300 cases of alleged enforced disappearances from August to October 2017. The main targets are activists, journalists, bloggers; basically anyone who raises voice against injustice and corruption.
Just last month, unknown men abducted grassroots activist Raza Mahmood, who is still missing. He was a peace activist working to promote harmony between India and Pakistan. He was last seen at a talk about the TYLRA protest where he was critical of the sit-in. In January 2017, at least five bloggers also went missing for their activism. These free thinkers form just a snippet of a harrowingly long list of those who are were forcibly disappeared. Detailing them all could literally open a pandora’s box.
Moving back to Taha, however, let’s go over how the nation responded
Journalist community must condemn the kidnapping attempt of @TahaSSiddiqui with full unity no compromise on harassment of media
— Hamid Mir (@HamidMirPAK) 10 January 2018
There is certainly more awareness of such enforced disappearances amongst the people. Several took to Twitter with the hashtag #StopEnforcedDisappearances. Some genuinely created outcry, calling for action against the attempted abduction. Others totally missed its gravity by humouring the situation. One user even deemed it appropriate to put up comical videos of how Taha must have fought through the attempted abduction. That too, right under the initial tweet Taha sent out through Cyril’s account. Talk about empathy! But, what is most disturbing is the majorly deafening silence over Taha’s attempted abduction.
Twitter is a very small community of activists and their opponents. And, while social media is becoming an effective tool for awareness, it is by no accounts sufficient. When you think about how the establishment is actually there to work for you instead of against you, the helplessness to do something only increases. It isn’t even about the right to free speech anymore because we are far from debating it’s provision. The conundrum is far graver. Such abductions aren’t just silencing critique but are creating a more immediate threat to life security itself.
Let’s wait, watch and hope for a different outcome for Taha
Message of support from Taha’s editors at France 24 pic.twitter.com/ggzDjEm5XV
— Mighty (@mightyobvious) 10 January 2018
The international community, including Amnesty International, has also condemned the attempted kidnapping. Taha’s peers at France 24 also showed support for their fellow journalist. Pakistan still stands at 139 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index 2017. This means that the country is one of the least secure globally for journalists to work in. Here is hoping that Taha’s case gives the dire issue of enforced disappearances due media and social attention. Enough that it brings about an effective change, both locally as well as internationally.