Islamabad: An investigative reporter of The News, one of Pakistan’s major newspapers, has suggested and alleged that he was kidnapped and tortured by personnel of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for writing articles that were critical of the Pakistan Army.
Umar Cheema claimed that he was on his way home from dinner earlier this month, when men in black commando garb stopped his car, blindfolded him and drove him to a house on the outskirts of the town.
He said he was beaten and stripped naked. His head and eyebrows were shaved, and assailants who he and other journalists believe were affiliated with the country’s powerful spy agency videotaped him in humiliating positions.
At one point, while he lay face down on the floor with his hands cuffed behind him, his captors made clear why he had been singled out for punishment: for writing against the government.
“If you can’t avoid rape,” one taunted him, “enjoy it”.
According to the New York Times, Cheema’s ordeal is not uncommon for a journalist or politician who crossed the interests of the military and intelligence agencies, the centres of power even in the current era of civilian government, reporters and politicians said.
“I have suspicions and every journalist has suspicions that all fingers point to the ISI,” Cheema said, using the acronym for the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the institution that the CIA works with closely in Pakistan to hunt militants.
The ISI is an integral part of the Pakistani Army. Its head, Lt Gen Shuja Ahmed Pasha, reports to the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Officials at the American embassy said they interviewed Cheema this week, and sent a report of his account to the State Department.
In response to an e-mail for comment, a spokesman for the ISI said, “They are nothing but allegations with no substance or truth.”
Cheema had won a Daniel Pearl Journalism Fellowship to train foreign journalists in 2007 and worked in The New York Times newsroom for six months at that time. He has been working at The News since 2007.