Umar Cheema was a 2008 Daniel Pearl Fellow who spoke, during his visit to Los Angeles that year, with conviction and insight about how America could improve its relation to the Muslim world and about his country’s own challenges.
Now there’s news that the News International journalist was abducted by thugs outside Islamabad, striped, hung upside down, shaved and tortured, before ultimately being released.
Our heart goes out to this fine man for the agony he must have endured, and we call on the government of Pakistan to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable. At a time when the international community extends a hand to Pakistan to relieve the flood tragedy unfolding there, it is even more important for the country to uphold standards of law, order, and decency.
More on the kidnapping:
According to the news portal, a group of men covered his face and took him to a building 45 to 50 minutes drive while he was returning home after meeting his friends.
“A few unknown men wearing uniforms of Elite Force came up to me, saying I crushed a man at Zero Point and drove off and then these men forcibly took me along with them,” Umar Cheema said. “I was held in illegal captivity for 6 hours during which I was continuously tortured and humiliated in nude. They stripped me out of my clothes, hanged me upside down and shaved off my head and moustaches,” the senior reporter of the country’s leading English daily recounted.
Café Pyala, a blog that follows the news from Pakistan and Pakistani media wrote that Cheema was “stripped naked, hung upside down and beaten severely before his head and moustache were shaved off.” According to the blog, Cheema, who is an investigative reporter for The News International, was “taken and dumped on the Islamabad Motorway with warnings not to make the incident public.” The captors had also warned Cheema to stop writing against the government.
Deepak Adhikari, a Kathmandu-based Nepali journalist, who met Cheema during the 2008 Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships in the US, said he “condemns the act and urge the authorities to punish the perpetrators.” “At a time when Pakistan is grappling with the crises at multiple fronts—-war on terror, the flood and the dysfunctional state—it’s unfortunate that the regime, instead of empowering the journos, is indulging on silencing and torturing them,” Adhikari told SAJA.
But this isn’t the first time that Cheema was attacked. In the 2008 SAJA interview, Cheema said he was hit by a car in Dec. 2004, which he believes was “purposeful.” “It [the reporting environment] is hostile. But, we have the nerve to resist. We cannot be intimidated,” he said.
Below is a video of a conversation I moderated with Umar: