The Pakistan correspondent of France 24, Babel Press and other international media, Siddiqui began receiving threatening phone calls from the FIA on 18 May in which he was repeatedly ordered to report to the FIA’s counter-terrorism department for questioning, although no official grounds were given for the summons.
In response to a petition from Siddiqui, the Islamabad high court asked the FIA to stop harassing him but FIA agents went to his home two days later with a formal summons.
Siddiqui, who also reports for the New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian and is the Pakistan bureau chief of the World Is One News website, often covers terrorism-related stories, persecuted minorities and corruption. In 2014, he was joint winner of the prestigious Albert Londres Prize, which is usually reserved for French-language journalists.
Defending his reluctance to comply with the summons, Siddiqui told : “When a person who is to be interrogated sets out for FIA headquarters, he is either picked up and disappeared or he is detained illegally.”
He explained to RSF : “The Pakistani authorities want to silence dissent, especially when it comes to critiquing the Pakistan military. But given that the army’s footprint is widespread in the country’s political, security and economic affairs, it is impossible to report without talking about them. And since I do not exercise self-censorship and do not approach the topic with diplomacy as my Pakistani colleagues do, I am being targeted.”
Siddiqui added: “I have gone to the courts to fight this clampdown on freedom of speech, and I urge fellow journalists, and even citizens to continue raising their voice – only then we can bring a positive change in a democracy. The army is our own institution and it is our duty to report on its wrongdoings so that going ahead it becomes a better force than ever, and that is how democracies around the world work.”
RSF not only applauds Siddiqui’s courage and gives him it support, but also urges the authorities to put a stop to any kind of attempt to intimidate him and to stop tolerating attacks on free speech, including the FIA’s recent drive to identify and list social network accounts deemed to be overly critical of the armed forces.
Harassment of those who dare to criticize the army or intelligence agencies is common in Pakistan and journalists are often the targets of threats or attacks. The Siddiqui case recalls that of Hamid Mir, a journalist who was badly injured in a shooting attack in April 2014, shortly after telling RSF he suspected that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was conspiring against him.
Pakistan is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.