Embattled editor defies Pakistan spies

Week in the Life NAJAM SETHI

NAJAM SETHI, the embattled Pakistani editor, was a spectral presence in London this week. On Thursday night he was due to receive an award from Amnesty International for "journalism under threat". But at the last minute the Pakistani authorities refused to let him fly and took away his passport. In London a relative collected the award in his place.

Mr Sethi has been infuriating the Pakistani authorities ever since returning home from Cambridge more than 25 years ago, midway through a doctorate.

The late prime minister Zulfikar Ai Bhutto jailed him in 1975 for pro- democracy protests. After his release he set up in publishing, and the military dictator Zia ul Haq threw him behind bars in 1984 for publishing a book on the United States' role in Pakistan.

With the new liberal mood that came in after Zia's death in 1988, he and his wife, Jugnu, set up the Friday Times, the weekly paper he still edits from a cramped office off the Mall in central Lahore. But his latest bout in jail - he was dragged from his house in the middle of the night last month, beaten up and held incommunicado for three weeks - was said to be punishment for giving an interview to a BBC team making a film about corruption in Pakistan.

u

Najam Sethi is free again, but it is a provisional, uneasy, tentative sort of freedom. On 17 June he, Jugnu and their two children stayed as usual at a relative's place. "Since I was abducted, Jugnu and the kids haven't slept at the house," Mr Sethi says. "We don't feel safe any more."

The feeling is not necessarily irrational. A senior journalist who Mr Sethi says is close to the intelligence agencies gave him a friendly warning. "Don't think this is over, Najam. They have taken it all personally and are very vindictive," he said.

Earlier in the day he was in the office of the Friday Times, but the mood there, too, was grim. "The staff look anxious," he says. "One correspondent has taken 'long leave'. Another has fled the country on some excuse. The phone lines are all tapped."

u

Friday 18 June. Due to leave Pakistan in less than a week to fly to London, Mr Sethi does not even have a passport. It was confiscated by Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan's spy agency, when they arrested him. He rings them up to ask for it back. They hedge. We'll call you, they say. Mr Sethi calls Amnesty to inform them of the hitch.

u

Saturday. The children are packed off to the in-laws' farm for the weekend, where they will be safe. Friends and relatives come over in solidarity and out of curiosity. At dinner is Mr Sethi's lawyer, Dr Khalid Ranjha, a former judge of the Lahore high court and president of the Lahore Bar Association. Why not file a writ demanding the passport back, Mr Sethi asks. Jugnu says: "No, let's wait for the ISI to say yes or no."

u

Monday: At last, some good news. The ISI call to say that he will get his passport back today at 6pm. "Does that mean I can go to London to receive the award?" Mr Sethi asks himself. "What if I am on the Exit Control List? Shall I book my seat?" He books the seat.

u

Tuesday: A popular form of official harassment in Pakistan is to spray perceived enemies of the state with spurious tax demands. This has been happening since Mr Sethi's arrest. The Sethis' house has also been "attached" by the tax department, and Jugnu's bank accounts seized. More tax demands arrive today.

Tonight the Sethis sleep at home again. The children take a lot of persuading. "I have to leave for the airport early tomorrow morning," Mr Sethi tells them. They all squeeze into a single room.

u

Wednesday: Day of departure. Up at 5am, Mr Sethi and his wife are at the airport by six. Mrs Sethi waits outside while her husband goes in. "Keep your mobile phone on, just in case," she tells him. "Call me before you board the aircraft."

The customs people are friendly and sympathetic. But just as Mr Sethi is waved into the immigration lounge, someone in an official uniform says, "Step this way please."

"He waved me to a sofa," Mr Sethi relates. "'May I have your passport please?' 'Of course'. He went away. Came back with two others in tow. 'You can't leave, sir, you're on the ECL [Exit Control List]. We're sorry. Orders are orders.'

'Who gave the orders?' I demanded to know. Silence. Then someone explained, 'The IB [Intelligence Bureau] ordered this on 2 June.' 'But that's the very day I was set free and all charges were dropped,' I replied'. " Kafka lives.

Mrs Sethi calls on the mobile and he tells her what has happened. "Come out quickly", she says, but before he can do so an official says, "Could I have your passport for a moment, please." Fifteen minutes later, Sethi is informed that the IB intends to retain the passport. "I demand an explanation. Silence. 'Go home, sir,' says an official, 'you'll get your passport back when we're ready to give it to you'."

u

Thursday: More tax notices arrive. At the last count the Sethis now had 50 between them. And today, an unexpected wrinkle: a ruling party MP has filed a petition before the chief election commissioner demanding that Mr Sethi be declared a non-Muslim and disenfranchised.

At the end of all this, Sethi says: "I can't believe this is happening to me." Peter Popham

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
people
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: International Trade Advisors - Hertfordshire or Essex

£30000 - £35379 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is based in Welwyn ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn