As It Happens

This Pakistani journalist narrowly escaped abduction by armed men on the highway

Taha Siddiqui, an outspoken critic of Pakistan's military, escaped with his life after at least eight armed men tried to abduct him from a taxi in Islamabad.
Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui speaks during a press conference after being assaulted by armed men in Islamabad on Wednesday. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story transcript

When a car swerved in front of his taxi and blocked off the highway, Taha Siddiqui initially thought it was someone with road rage. Then he saw the guns.

"One scene keeps repeating in my mind of the first guy getting out of the car with a pistol in his hand and coming toward me, because I thought they were just going to shoot me right there," the Pakistani journalist told As It Happens host Carol Off.

​"I feel like I have been given a new life, and also I feel very confused as to how this miracle happened that I could escape."

Siddiqui, 33, a correspondent for France 24, said he was in a taxi on the Islamabad highway on Wednesday heading to the airport to catch a flight to London when a car condoned off the road. At least eight armed men emerged.

He said the first man with the pistol approached him and said: "What do you think of yourself? Do you think you're somebody?"

I want to speak the truth but I also want to live, so it's a tough choice for me now.- Taha Siddiqui, journalist 

The men hauled him out of the taxi, he said. They took his phone and his passport. They told him they were going take him somewhere and not to resist.

He tried to flee, he said, but they beat him on the side of the road.

A military vehicle drove by and Siddiqui said he desperately tried to wave down a solider to help him. But one of the thugs gestured at the soldier to move on, and he obeyed.

"That's when I realized they are in full authority here and nobody's going to intervene in this situation," he said. 

Crackdown on critics and journalists 

Authorities have been cracking down on critics of Pakistan's powerful military, which exerts influence over policy and security in the country.

Five liberal social media activists were abducted in Pakistan in January 2017, only to resurface weeks later. 

Three say they were tortured by the military, Al Jazeera reports, and one has since applied for asylum in the U.K

Pakistan's security forces have denied involvement.

Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, ranking 139th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index maintained by Reporters Without Borders.

"The beating and attempted abduction of Taha Siddiqui is the latest in a deeply worrying pattern of attacks on journalists in Pakistan," Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director at human rights group Amnesty International, said in a written statement.

"Pakistani journalists have a right to carry out their work freely and without fear. Journalism is not a crime, but attacking journalists is. These crimes must be immediately and effectively investigated."

'I just ran for my life'

After they dragged him from the taxi and beat him, Siddiqui said the gunmen put them in their car.

"When they started sitting in the car, I realized this was my opportunity to maybe make a run for it," he said.

"On the right side of my door there was nobody there. I opened that and miraculously ... it opened and I just ran for my life."

He launched himself into traffic and managed to leap into a moving taxi, he said.

Siddiqui sustained minor wounds to his arms, legs and face. (Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)

"By the time the taxi driver understood what was going on, he had already covered a distance of at least a kilometre," he said.

"Then he stopped and said, 'I cannot take you any farther. You're being followed by security forces, I think, and I don't want to get involved.'"

Siddiqui said he hid in a ravine on the side of the road.

Eventually, he clamoured back out onto the road and flagged another taxi, which took him to the nearest police station.

He filed a report and immediately went to social media and the press with his story.

Police officials in Islamabad told Al Jazeera they are investigating.

'I want to speak the truth'

​Siddiqui said he is glad to have escaped with his life. 

"I think I would have been taken away. I would have been tortured like they've done with other people," he said. 

"Maybe I would have been killed in the torture because I could not have sustained it. Maybe they would have taken compromising pictures of me. They've done that."

Siddiqui said he's been struggling to decide how much he should explain to his five-year-old child about what happened to him.

Many of his colleagues, he said, have warned him to shut up and keep his head down.

"The senior reporters who have been doing journalism in this country for 20 years, 30 years, they have come up to me and said that there is no use changing this system, there is no use challenging them," he said.

"I want to speak the truth but I also want to live, so it's a tough choice for me now."

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