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

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam