Pakistani journalist held by agents for questioning

Man's detention seen as retaliation against press

May 10, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW DELHI, India -- A prominent Pakistani journalist who has been harshly critical of the government has been detained by Pakistani authorities and is being held at an unknown location. His wife said yesterday that the police dragged him from his bedroom, shoeless and without his eyeglasses, early Saturday morning.

The journalist, Najam Sethi, is one of several who have been arrested, interrogated and harassed in Pakistan over the past week. Pakistani journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York, say the government is apparently retaliating against editors and writers who have given interviews to BBC reporters investigating high-level corruption.

Pakistani officials did not return calls yesterday, but the official Pakistani news agency quoted an unnamed government spokesman on Saturday as saying that Sethi was being interrogated by agents of Pakistan's intelligence service for alleged links to India's intelligence agency.

The spokesman said the government's suspicions were aroused when Sethi, editor of the Friday Times, an English-language weekly based in Lahore, gave a speech in India that was darkly pessimistic about Pakistan's future. He spoke at the India International Center in New Delhi on April 30.

The top Pakistani envoy in New Delhi, Ashraf Qazi, was a guest at the event, which was sponsored by the India-Pakistan Friendship Society. Qazi filed a report to Islamabad describing Sethi's remarks as an act of "the most contemptible treachery," the spokesman said.

Qazi did not return calls to his residence here yesterday. I. K. Gujral, a former prime minister of India who heads the Friendship Society, said Qazi rebutted Sethi's remarks at the meeting.

Sethi's wife, Jugnu Mohsin, publisher of the Friday Times, said she and her husband had been threatened even before he gave the speech, by Saifur Rehman, the nation's chief investigator of corruption. Rehman could not be reached for comment.

The speech her husband gave in New Delhi had been printed months earlier in the Friday Times, without incident and was delivered to a standing ovation at the National Defense College in Pakistan, she said. "They are accusing him of somehow being a traitor by voicing the truth in enemy territory -- India," she said. "This is a spurious charge."

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