Senator Lugar intervenes in Umar Cheema case
By Ahmad Noorani
ISLAMABAD: The torture and abduction of ‘The News’ senior journalist Umar Cheema has now echoed in Washington with the most senior member of US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard G Lugar, in a secret letter to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, has expressed concerns on behalf of the US Congress regarding this terrible incident, terming this case a ‘bellwether for Pakistan’.
The letter, delivered quietly a month back, has yet to be responded by Prime Minister Gilani, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international organization that has written more than seven times highlighting excesses on Cheema and the government’s lack of interest in reaching the culprits.
The importance of Senator Lugar in US Senate is apparent from the fact that famous Kerry-Lugar Bill, under which Pakistan receives the biggest financial non-military assistance of $7.5 billion in five years, has been named after him together with Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Though the issue of Umar Cheema is getting so much importance at international level but in Pakistan neither has the federal government so far taken any concrete step against those who are allegedly involved in the heinous act despite clear indications nor Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has ordered any in-house inquiry despite many demands by the journalists’ representative bodies on this count.
Senator Lugar has said the Congress is closely watching the outcome of this case demanding the immediate arrest of the culprits allegedly associated with the intelligence agencies.Majority of Pakistani journalists accuse the ISI of conducting this operation. This view was strongly endorsed by the Punjab law minister who in a sworn statement before Judicial Commission on Umar Cheema also disclosed four ISI officials namely Brig Aslam Ghumman, Col Ali, Maj Nadeem and Maj Raja Khalid Pervaiz for brutalizing him in the same manner in 1999 and 2003.
Senator Lugar said the massive non-military assistance being granted to Pakistan was not only for strengthening Pakistan’s economy but also the democracy and media was important component of it. He has built up his arguments on the basis of reports published by the CPJ and one of such articles was also attached with the letter sent to the PM Gilani.
Lugar said the arrest became more important also for the reason that “persons with government connection” appeared to be the perpetrators of Umar Cheema’s abduction. The letter was secretly delivered to Prime Minister Gilani by the US Embassy’s senior officials but the government was sitting over it since then. It remained top secret until the CPJ secured a copy of the letter making it public in an article titled: “Lugar: Umar Cheema’s case, a bellwether for Pakistan,” published on its website late Monday.
The letter states: “This case is an important bellwether on two counts. First, respecting the rule of law is the bedrock of any democracy. Persons with government connections, as it appears the perpetrators of this crime may be, must not be allowed to evade punishment for their crimes. Second, a responsible press serves as a watchdog on the government and a means for expressing differing points of view. A press that is intimidated by violence cannot serve this function to the detriment of the democracy and the people it serves. It takes only a few acts of repression to silence many voices.”
In the opening paragraphs, Senator Lugar wrote: “I urge you to take the opportunity to demonstrate Pakistan’s commitment to the rule of law and a free press by ensuring that your government aggressively investigates and prosecutes those responsible for the kidnapping and torture of journalist Umar Cheema, of The News.”
Pressing on the positive outcome of this investigation, Senator Lugar states: “ I and many of my colleagues in the Congress believe that successful resolution of the Cheema case will be an important indicator of the progress that is being made (through Kerry-Lugar Bill assistance).”
According to the sources, US State Department will also highlight Cheema’s case in annual report on Pakistan as doing so is mandatory under a legislation that requires description of the state of human rights and freedom of media in the countries granted financial assistance by Washington. Therefore, US Embassy’s senior diplomat met Cheema some days after this incident, for knowing what happened with him and who were the possible culprits. The office of the US Assistant Secretary of State on Human Rights and Democracy had also contacted Cheema for securing details in order to furnish them in the annual report on Pakistan.
According to analysts, Cheema’s case will reach to a dead end as there is no encouraging progress in the criminal investigation as Joint Investigation Team (JIT) headed by DIG Biniamin is least interested in reaching the culprits with all fingers being pointed towards the ISI.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah who had also experienced such tortures twice, recorded a statement before the Judicial Commission on Umar Cheema and said in an unequivocal terms that he was sure this had been done by the ISI.
In support of his argument, he also mentioned the names of those ISI officers who had tortured him in November 1999 and March 2003.He said Major Nadeem and Col Ali of the ISI tortured him in 1999 and Brig Aslam Ghumman and Maj Raja Khalid Pervaiz of the ISI were involved in abducting and torturing him in March 2003.
Source: The News