Pakistan reporter Taha Siddiqui flees armed abductors

Media caption,
Taha Siddiqui: "Four guys came out... they had AK-47s"

A prominent Pakistani journalist has escaped an attempt to abduct him by armed men in the capital Islamabad.

Taha Siddiqui says 10-12 unidentified men beat him and threatened to kill him as he took a cab to the airport. He jumped out of the vehicle and fled.

The journalist said later he was "safe with police", who are investigating.

Mr Siddiqui featured in a recent BBC article about press freedom in Pakistan, one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists.

Speaking to the BBC in front of an Islamabad police station where he gave a statement, Mr Siddiqui looked still to be in shock, our reporter Secunder Kermani says.

The buttons on his shirt had been ripped off in the struggle, and he was caked in dirt from hiding and crawling through a ditch during his escape. But he promised he would not be silenced.

'They had AK-47s'

Mr Siddiqui was on the main Islamabad expressway to the airport to take a morning flight to London for work when a car overtook his taxi.

"The car suddenly stopped right in front of me... and it just braked in the middle of the road," the award winning reporter, who has worked for the New York Times, France 24 and many other international media, told the BBC.

"Four guys came out - they were all armed, they had AK-47s. One of them had a pistol."

Mr Siddiqui said his would-be kidnappers dragged him from the taxi and roughed him up before taking the cab driver's keys.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Press freedom and access to justice in Pakistan are both in danger, campaigners say

"I realised I was being abducted... and I started resisting," he said. "I started screaming and shouting and saying 'let me go, let me go'."

Mr Siddiqui said he then realised a second car was involved in the kidnap attempt. A man from that vehicle put him in a headlock and he was forced back in the cab.

"They were saying 'shoot him if he resists' - in English - and then they said 'shoot him in his leg'."

The journalist said he pretended to calm down in the hope he might get a chance to escape and then noticed the door on the other side of the cab was unlocked.

He opened it and jumped out, before running to the other side of the road and flagging down a passing taxi. It took him a few hundred metres along the road and then its occupants realised he was the target of the kidnap attempt and demanded he leave the vehicle.

"One of them said, 'this guy is the one the military people were trying to take away'. So they pushed me out."

Mr Siddiqui hid in a ditch, removed his red jumper to make himself harder to spot and after a few minutes crawled away to catch a lift with another vehicle and go to the police by a different road.

His assailants took away all his belongings, including his laptop, phone and passport. He has now asked for police protection because his "life is under threat, my family's life is under threat".

Asked who he thought was behind the abduction attempt, he said: "I am somebody who does not exercise self-censorship. I have been talking about them on social media - and this is basically the powerful establishment as it's called, euphemistically, in our country."

'I will not go silent'

Mr Siddiqui, who is known for criticising Pakistan's powerful military, is bureau chief for Indian channel World Is One News in Islamabad.

He told the BBC last year he often received calls from security agencies wanting to discuss his work. But he said he would not be deterred by the kidnap attempt.

"The only way to stop this happening is to continue talking about these tactics to intimidate us. So I will not go silent."

Pakistan ranks 139th out of 180 countries listed on the World Press Freedom Index 2017, compiled by Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) and threats to journalists are increasing.

In October, another journalist, Ahmad Noorani, was severely beaten by six men wielding chains. His investigations into the Panama Papers case had unearthed embarrassing revelations about the role of the military.

A year ago a number of social media activists were briefly "kidnapped" by unknown men. Fingers were pointed at the military, but the cases were never investigated by civilian authorities.