Press freedom still a threatened commodity

With turmoil in the Middle East and recent news of another Pakistani reporter killed, a journalist honored at SU shares his personal story of torture and the challenges of freedom of information.

As protests continue to rumble across parts of the Middle East and North Africa, freedom of the press has increasingly come under attack. In the spotlight have been high profile cases like the abduction of four New York Times' reporters in Libya.

Pakistani reporter Umar Cheema received the Tully Free Speech Award at Syracuse University for his investigative journalism despite physical threats and an abduction.

Recently in Pakistan, notable journalist Saleem Shazhad reportedly disappeared, was tortured and killed. Shazhad was laid to rest in Karachi, Pakistan Wednesday, according to Geo News.

This past spring at Syracuse University, the freedom to gather information and report freely came in focus at the Tully Center for Free Speech award ceremony where Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema was honored for his courageous reporting.

Cheema reports for The News International, Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper. His stories are also translated into Urdu, Pakistan's national language, and simultaneously published for the largest circulating Urdu-language newspaper, the Daily Jang. 

In September 2010, Cheema was abducted by what he suspects were agents from one of Pakistan's various intelligence outfits for criticizing the government in his investigative reporting. They stripped him naked and tortured him, releasing him with an ominous warning: If he continues with his investigative journalism, the torture will only get worse.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported eight journalists were killed in Pakistan in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said 20 journalists and other media personnel were killed in the line of duty in the same year. After Cheema's ordeal, several media organizations came to his support. Dawn, another English-language paper, wrote a strong editorial in solidarity with Cheema: "This paper`s stand is clear: The government and its intelligence agencies will be considered guilty until they can prove their innocence."

Months have passed since Cheema's ordeal and his perpetrators are still at large.

Deadliest Countries in 2010:

1.            Pakistan

2.            Iraq

3.            Honduras

4.            Mexico

5.            Indonesia

6.            Somalia

7.            Thailand

8.            Nigeria

9.            Angola

10.        Afghanistan

11.        Phillipines

12.        Cameroon

13.        Belarus

14.        India

15.        Yemen

16.        Uganda

17.        Greece

18.        Brazil

19.        Lebanon

20.        Rwanda

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

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