Pakistani blogger in forced exile attacked, threatened outside his Rotterdam home
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Dutch authorities to protect a Pakistani blogger who was attacked and threatened outside the Rotterdam home where he lives with his family in self-imposed exile, and to shed all possible light on this violent act of intimidation, which was clearly instigated by a Pakistani state agency.
The attack on the blogger, Ahmad Waqass Goraya, was carried out by two men on 2 February. “I was on the phone when a man appeared and began punching me in the face while I saw another man with him filming the attack,” he told RSF. Speaking in Urdu with a Pashtun accent, the man hitting Goraya threatened to kill him and told him he knew exactly where he and his family live.
Goraya has filed a complaint at the police station near Marconiplein, in the Rotterdam district of Delfshaven. “This attack fits the modus operandi of Pakistani spy agencies,” he told RSF. “Along with other Pakistani dissidents, I had information that a list of potential targets is circulating.”
RSF has learned that at least two other Pakistani journalists who have found refuge in European countries are currently being pressured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s leading intelligence agency, by means of intimidation of relatives who are still in Pakistan. Goraya himself reported in 2018 that his relatives in Pakistan were being subjected to this kind of harassment
In another disturbing aspect of this case, Goraya also said: “We were told they would target someone of Pashtun ethnicity.” The attack was carried out on the day that demonstrations were being held in Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora in support of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, which defends the Pashtun minority and which is currently being targeted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
“In view of the corroborating elements, we urge the Dutch police to concentrate on the hypothesis that the ISI was behind this attack and to guarantee Ahmad Waqass Goraya’s safety,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“If it is confirmed that the ISI was responsible for this shocking attack, it would set an unacceptable precedent and would constitute a flagrant violation of Dutch sovereignty. We therefore urge Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok to immediately summon Pakistan’s ambassador to The Hague and demand an explanation.”
The subjects that Goraya blogs about include human rights violations and cases of torture by the Pakistani military and the ISI. He also supports the repeal of blasphemy laws.
Tortured “beyond limits”
In January 2017, when he was still living in Pakistan, he was one of five well-known, pro-human rights bloggers who were abducted in different parts of the country within a few days of each other. Released after several weeks, Goraya immediately fled to the Netherlands, from where he told the BBC that that he had been tortured “beyond limits” and identified his abductors as a "government institution" with links to the military.
In March 2019, he was one of six journalists accused in an internal memo by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), a Pakistani interior ministry offshoot, of posting photos of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi online ahead of a visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman to Islamabad. The FIA said the journalists should be “investigated” by the intelligence services, which in this context presumably meant subjected to harassment and intimidation.
Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.