PAKISTAN: A senior journalist was abducted, tortured and kept incommunicado by the intelligence agencies


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-133-2010
ISSUES: Freedom of expression, Impunity, Rule of law,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding the shameful act allegedly by the officials of notorious intelligence agencies and the Elite Force, a law enforcement agency of Punjab government. Mr. Umer Cheema, a senior journalist from the newspaper, daily The News International, was abducted, tortured severely and kept in incommunicado to threat and intimidate him from his professional duties. Several media reports suggest that persons from intelligence agencies carried out the act. The government has still not been able to arrest the persons responsible for the abduction and torture. In a routine way the orders to arrest the culprits and form an inquiry committee have been made by the government and the Ministry of Interior and the Lahore High Court has taken suo motto action. However, it appears that the government officials and the courts hesitate to take action against the intelligence agencies due to the culture of impunity.


According to Mr. Umer Cheema, a senior journalist at The News International, a daily newspaper based in Islamabad, he was kidnapped, tortured and humiliated for six hours on 4 September. He was picked up in cloak-and-dagger style in the wee hours by men in commando uniforms and driven to a “safe house”. Here unknown persons took over; he was beaten black and blue, humiliated beyond one’s comprehension, made to strip off his clothes, hung upside down and remained in the illegal custody for hours. Finally, he was thrown out on the roadside at Talagang, 120 kilometres from Islamabad with a shaved head and a threatening message for Ansar Abbasi, the head of the newspaper’s investigative section.

Umar Cheema was a 2008 Daniel Pearl Fellow. In 2004 during General Musharraf’s government, he was deliberately hit by a moving car while doing a story on international inspection of Pakistan’s nuclear power installations.

According to the stories published in Daily The News, the kidnappers hurled abuses at the Chief Justice and cursed the editor-in-chief of the Jang Group. The kidnappers also threatened that Ansar Abbasi’s son might be kidnapped if the stories against the government were not stopped.

Cheema has received “brotherly advice” during the recent weeks allegedly from the intelligence agencies. Cheema’s investigative stories not only hit the interests of the members in the present regime but have also hurt certain egos in the military and intelligence agencies. Police have registered a FIR (First Information Report) against the unknown persons.

Cheema claims that after a drive of 45 minutes, he was brought to a room, probably a “safe house”, where he was made to sit on a bed with his hands cuffed and eyes blindfolded. He estimates that there were around twelve people at the house. He was then laid down on the ground; his shirt was torn and his clothes taken off while videos and photos were taken of him naked. The people present started beating him with a long piece of leather (chittar), specially used by police to punish criminals in police stations.

Cheema was also offered a glass of milk mixed with something slightly orange in colour, which relieved him of some pain.

Cheema said that during the entire exercise, he remained handcuffed and blindfolded except when his head was being shaved and when he was being photographed. “I was asked to make naked poses for photographs,” Cheema narrated.

Daily The News says that the Jang Group and many of its journalists have received serious threats from different government quarters for some time. During the thrashing, Cheema was threatened that if he went to the media regarding his abduction and torture, the video and pictures would be released on YouTube.

Cheema quoted one of the kidnappers saying: “Why do you want to bring martial law in the country?” At times the kidnappers would talk of his stories against the Punjab government. “According to my comprehension and memory, I have not done any such story against the Punjab government,” Cheema says.


It is a general method of intelligence agencies, particularly after the 9/11 incident, to abduct persons, blindfold them and keep them in incommunicado. It is also common practice to make nude videos and photos of the victim and threat him with the publishing of these, if he speaks about the enforced disappearance after his release.

The abduction and severe torture during incommunicado is a typical way for the intelligence agencies to deal with dissidents. The intelligence agencies have always been independent from the state in their work and run their own, parallel government.

They seem to think that they are not accountable to anyone accept the army. In the particular context of the militarization of Pakistan, this is actually very true.

There are many examples of journalists being abducted and later found dead with proofs of torture on their bodies. The officials of the intelligence agencies use to inform the family members of the victims that the abducted persons are held for some interrogation and are soon to be released (For further details regarding the repression of journalists in Pakistan, please see Urgent Appeals: AHRC-UAC-043-2009; UA-074-2007; UA-381-2006; UP-127-2006; and following statements AHRC-FST-044-2010; AHRC-STM-237-2009; AHRC-STM-176-2009; AHRC-STM-044-2009; AHRC-STM-023-2009; and AS-128-2007).

Please write letters to the authorities to take stern action against the activities of the intelligence agencies, which are working without any lawful authority, and running their own illegal investigation system. Please urge upon the authorities to arrest the culprits who abducted and tortured Mr. Umer Cheema and prosecute them. The government should also provide medical treatment to him. Please also urge that intelligence agencies should be made under the civilian authorities.

The AHRC writes separate letters to UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression calling for their intervention into this  case.

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : AHRC-UAC-133-2010
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Impunity, Rule of law,