I feel unsafe in exile, despite leaving Pak: Taha Siddiqui

Paris: A year after escaping a possible assassination attempt by armed men while on his way to Islamabad airport, noted Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui has opined that despite leaving the country and living in a self-imposed exile in France since then, he feels that he is unsafe even in a foreign country.

In his article titled ‘I’m a journalist who fled Pakistan, but I no longer feel safe in exile’ published in The Washington Post, Siddiqui stated that several of his well-wishers had warned him of speaking against the Pakistan Army, else his life would be at stake, where he could be shot dead by the military forces.

Recalling the January 10 attack, which he termed it as a “brazen assault”, the Pakistani scribe claimed that the Army was behind it, as he had been reporting extensively on military abuses in the country.

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“Since the brazen assault, I have fled Pakistan with my wife and five-year-old son, and we now live in self-imposed exile in France. After the attack, several well-wishers told me that if I did not stop speaking about the Pakistani military, I would be shot dead the next time they came for me. So I decided to speak up from the safety of exile. But now, even in exile, I feel unsafe,” he wrote in The Washington Post.

Siddiqui disclosed in his article that while attending a conference, organised by Pakistani dissidents in Washington DC in December, he received a call from American authorities.

He added that during the call, the authorities informed him that they received intelligence about an assassination plot against the Pakistani journalist if he returned to the country.

Siddiqui asserted that he was asked by the authorities to stay away from “Pakistani embassies around the world and also Pakistan-friendly countries.” He further said that other Pakistani dissidents living in exile had received similar warnings in the past.

“The US intelligence officials told me they believe that, after Jamal Khashoggi’s killing, repressive regimes such as the one in Pakistan have been emboldened to silence critics, not only at home but also abroad. It certainly seems that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who may have ordered the hit on Khashoggi, is going to get away with this murder, as the Saudi royals’ global relations remain unscathed,” he wrote in The Washington Post.

Siddiqui underlined in his article that when he was asked by his colleague to be alert and careful after Khashoggi’s murder, he, however, brushed it off saying that Paris is a safe city.

But the chilling moment came for Siddiqui when his friend informed him that three Kurdish dissidents were killed in 2013, purportedly on the orders of Turkish authorities.

Expressing fear about his life, the scribe further said, “Now, after the warning I received, I once again fear for my life. Every time I leave my apartment, enter public places or simply walk on the streets in Paris, I am paranoid about being followed. Every time I stand on the subway platform, I fear that someone may push me on the tracks at the last moment.”

Siddiqui further stated that ever since the warning by the American authorities, his family has been hell-bent to not speak against Pakistan.

However, defending himself, the scribe wrote in his post, that he reminded his family that the only reason he left the country, despite having a stable job, a comfortable home and a strong journalism network, was to continue being the voice of those in Pakistan who could not speak up.

Expressing concerns about the rising incidents of attacks and murders of Pakistani journalist last years, Siddiqui said that this fear has led to self-imposed citizenship in the country, The Washington Post reported.

“Hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs in recent months because of a financial squeeze that many believe has been orchestrated by the Pakistani authorities to teach independent media houses a lesson. With physical attacks such as the one on me and several others, fear has taken over the industry, resulting in unprecedented self-imposed censorship,” he said.

The noted journalist further stated that social media platforms have become an important outlet in Pakistan for those people who want to reveal the truth, with the mainstream media being muzzled allegedly by the Pakistani military forces.

However, he claimed that even these platforms have collaborated with the authorities, due to which popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter are regularly monitored and heavily censored in the country.

Siddiqui recalled that he received a similar warning where legal notices are being served on behalf of the Pakistani government to its users to remove objectionable content.

“Also, following the Saudi playbook, Pakistan also deploys armies of online trolls to target critics like me, warning us of fates like Khashoggi’s,” he wrote in The Washington Post.
Chiding the Imran Khan-led government, Siddiqui said that “his close ties to the military show he may not care for democratic norms such as freedom of expression.”

While concluding his piece, the noted Pakistani journalist batted for freedom of expression, free from harassment and external threats.

“One year after my attack, the harassment, intimidation and threats have followed me abroad, too, and have forced me to think whether it is all worth it. As someone recently told me: If they are obsessed with silencing a journalist and his ideas, it probably means that his ideas are powerful and worth listening to. I believe powerful and independent ideas should not be given up, no matter what the cost,” Siddiqui said.


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