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Journalist abducted, tortured

(PPF/IFEX) - Umer Cheema, a reporter with the Investigation Department of the English-language daily "The News", was abducted from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, on September 4, 2010 by a group of 12 unidentified men. The abductors drove him to an unknown place, kept him in confinement for six hours, stripped him naked, shaved his hair, eyebrows and moustache and subjected him to physical and mental torture. They released him in Talagang, 120 kilometres from Islamabad. Cheema suspects that an intelligence agency was behind the kidnapping.

Cheema was heading home at 3:30 a.m. when two vehicles intercepted his car. Twelve men wearing police uniforms surrounded him and said that he had hit and killed a man. He was handcuffed, blindfolded and dragged into one of the vehicles and taken to an unknown location after a 45 to 50-minute drive.

According to "The News", Cheema said he was stripped naked, thrown on the floor and beaten with a leather belt. They then hanged him upside down and shaved off his head, eyebrows and moustache. "What is your agenda? You are working for a lobby which favoured martial law," Cheema quoted the abductors as saying. The kidnappers also made video clips of Cheema along with still photographs and threatened that if he went to the media about this incident the video and pictures would be released on YouTube.

While abandoning him at Talagang, the captors warned Cheema to stop writing reports against the government, threatening that his senior colleague Ansar Abbasi, Editor of Investigations at "The News", will be their next target. Cheema said the kidnappers also used abusive language about Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

Cheema lodged a complaint with the police and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered an inquiry into the incident. The prime minister called Cheema to express sorrow over the kidnapping and assault. The prime minister assured him that the matter would be thoroughly investigated to bring the culprits to book.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) Chief Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif has taken suo moto notice of the attack on reporter Cheema and summoned the Islamabad inspector general of police. Taking notice of the incident, the chief justice observed that the attack on the journalist was an attack on press freedom, which is protected under the Constitution of Pakistan.

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