Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the news that journalist Sohail Qalandar of the Daily Express newspaper and his companion, Muhammad Niaz, are safe and sound in Peshawar after managing to escape from their kidnappers on the night of 20 February. They spent 50 days in captivity in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan.
"We pay tribute to the courage of Qalandar, who was held captive in very harsh conditions," the press freedom organisation said. "This was just the latest of many cases of Pakistani journalists being kidnapped. The authorities should be doing more to combat this phenomenon."
The escape of Qalandar and his friend coincided with the arrival in Pakistan of an international mission that includes Reporters Without Borders. According to initial reports, they managed to call for help while being transferred from one place of captivity to another, and escaped during an exchange of shots involving their captors.
Qalandar and Niaz were kidnapped on 2 January by persons of Pashtun origin. Qalandar said he did not know who they were, but some of their demands were related to the fact that he was a journalist.
They were tied up for most of their time in captivity, and were subjected to mistreatment and intimidation. They were forbidden to pray and were often injected with tranquillizers. They lost weight and were exhausted after their escape. They thanked their colleagues, the authorities and journalists’ organisations for campaigning for their release.
Call for concerted effort by government to find missing journalist
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the lack of any response from the Pakistani authorities to the disappearance of Peshawar-based journalist Sohail Qalandar of the Daily Express newspaper, who went missing with a friend, Muhammad Niaz, on 2 January while near the Khyber Agency tribal area.
“It is impossible to say if Qalandar’s disappearance is linked to his work as a journalist, but it raises once again the issue of the protection of citizens, including journalists, in certain parts of the country,” the press freedom organisation said. “Twenty-four days have gone by since these two men were reported missing and the investigation seems to have made no progress. We expect a concerted effort by the authorities in Peshawar and Islamabad to find them safe and sound.”
Shamim Shahid, the head of the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ), has ruled out any possibility of government involvement in their abduction and says everything suggests they were kidnapped for ransom.
The abandoned vehicle of Qalandar and Niaz was found on 2 January in Hayatabad, which is on the outskirts of Peshawar (the capital of North-West Frontier Province) and near the Khyber Agency. So far no one claiming to have kidnapped them has contacted their families or colleagues.
Journalists have stepped up protests about the case in the past week, above all accusing the authorities of being ineffective. Journalists’ organisations have warned that if there is no significant progress in the investigation by 26 January, they will launch a national campaign. “When a journalist’s life is threatened, the lives of all citizens are in danger,” Shahid said.