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Pakistan 24 December 2008

Balochi journalist reveals he was tortured in prison

Reporters Without Borders today voiced its outrage at torture inflicted on Javid Lehri, of the Urdu-language Daily Azadi during the nine months he was imprisoned in Quetta, Balochistan province, in the south-west of the country.

The journalist was snatched by around 20 military intelligence agents from his student hall of residence in Kuzdar district on 29 November 2007 probably for publishing articles that were highly critical of the government.

Speaking for the first time about his ordeal, Lehri said in an interview with the Daily Times, “It took me three months to realise that I was being held in a detention centre close to Quetta. My tiny cell was always completely dark”.

During the first three days of his detention, Lehri was hung by his feet and beaten. His jailers then chained him up and tortured him. “The torture was so unbearable that I prayed for death,” he said in the interview. “I hoped I could find some object in my cell that I could use to commit suicide with”, he admitted.

He was asked where the name Azadi (liberation in Urdu) came from. The journalist said the secret service agents wanted to know “what kind of liberation” his newspaper was fighting for and demanded that the name be changed.

“I told them that I only worked for the newspaper as a correspondent and that I could not change either its name or its editorial line. They wouldn’t believe me and continued to beat me,” he said.

Since his release, on 22 August 2008, Lehri has suffered from insomnia, depression and digestive problems. He has to travel from his home district in Balochistan to Karachi for treatment every two weeks.

“I cannot afford to take the treatment I need. I often have nightmares because I am still receiving threatening phone calls on my mobile phone warning me against talking about what happened to me in prison”, he said.

“The conflict between government forces and separatist movements ravaging Baluchistan has been devastating for the region’s journalists”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “This arrest was in fact illegal and constitutes an offence against the rule of law. The terrifying account given by Javid Lehri, who was kidnapped and tortured for political reasons, should prompt the central government to open an early investigation so that those guilty of these vicious acts can be punished,” the organisation added.

Lehri’s account was distressing similar to that of Munir Mengal, who was arrested on the orders of former president, Pervez Musharraf, on 4 April 2006 and held secretly on his orders for 22 months by police and military intelligence for having founded the satellite television  Baloch Voice.

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