Islamabad, Pakistan – A prominent Pakistani journalist has escaped an attempt to kidnap him by unidentified, armed men in the capital, Islamabad, the journalist and police say.
Taha Siddiqui, 33, a correspondent for the France24 news television channel, was on his way to the airport on Wednesday when at least eight armed men attempted to abduct him, he told Al Jazeera.
“They started beating me and threatening to shoot me,” he said, of the scuffle as the men pulled him out of his taxi, dragged him to the floor, kicking and punching him.
Siddiqui, visibly shaken from the encounter, suffered minor wounds to his arms and legs, as well as a scratch across his face.
“They were cordoning off the road, armed with rifles, and the men who pulled me out of the car, they had small weapons, pistols,” he told Al Jazeera.
Siddiqui is known for being an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s military, which has ruled the country for roughly half of its 70-year history and still holds great influence over matters of national security and foreign policy.
This year, authorities have undertaken a crackdown on dissent expressed on social media, particularly posts critical of the military.
In January, five activists were abducted for three weeks in connection with the crackdown, with at least three of them later publicly saying they were abducted, interrogated and tortured by the military.
The military denies any wrongdoing, and the Pakistani government says the crackdown remains within the ambit of Pakistan’s freedom of speech laws.
Pakistan remains a restrictive environment for journalists, with at least 60 journalists killed in connection with their work in the country since 1992, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In 2017, it ranked 139th out of 180 countries on rights group Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.
“The Pakistani media are regarded as among the freest in Asia but are targeted by extremist groups, Islamist organisations, and the feared intelligence agencies, all of which are on RSF’s list of Predators of Press Freedom,” reads RSF’s entry on Pakistan.
Police officials told Al Jazeera they were filing a report of the incident and would investigate in the coming days.
Siddiqui managed to escape after scuffling with his assailants and lunging for an unlocked door in the back seat of the vehicle he was about to be taken away in, he said.
He rushed out into oncoming traffic and jumped into a taxi, which slowed down when it saw him approaching, he said.
“I gave the man Rs1,000 ($10) and told him to drive on, and that I was being chased by attackers,” he told Al Jazeera.
Rizwan Ahmed, the driver of the vehicle Siddiqui was abducted from, corroborated the journalist’s version of events to Al Jazeera, saying his vehicle was forced to stop by another car that repeatedly braked suddenly in front of them.
“They put a Kalashnikov [rifle] to my head … I was told to turn away,” he said.
Amnesty International condemned Siddiqui’s abduction and called for an end to impunity for attacks on journalists in Pakistan.
“Pakistani journalists like Taha Siddiqui have a right to carry out their work freely and without fear,” said Omar Waraich, Deputy South Asia Director at Amnesty International. “Journalism is not a crime, but attacking journalists is.”
“These crimes must be immediately and effectively investigated,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Enforced disappearances are common in Pakistan, particularly of those considered to be critical of the government, military or certain armed groups.
Earlier this week, the country’s Supreme Court warned a government commission formed to probe cases of such disappearances that it was working too slowly.
Last month, Raza Khan, a peace activist, went missing in eastern Lahore, shortly after attending a talk where participants were discussing increasing “extremism” in the country.
Journalism is not a crime, but attacking journalists is.
Siddiqui himself had previously come under threat from the authorities for his work, with the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) summoning him to answer for Twitter posts they considered to be critical of the military.
Siddiqui refused to answer the summons unless he was formally charged, and filed a petition with the Islamabad High Court against further harassment by the authorities.
In May, the court issued an order restraining the FIA from further harassing Siddiqui without concrete evidence. Hearings in the case continue.
As Siddiqui lay on the road being kicked and punched by his attackers, he recalls seeing a military patrol vehicle slowly drive by.
“I looked at them and pleaded to them to save me … I cried and shouted. They did not stop.”
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s web correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.