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Pakistani anti-drone activist 'interrogated and tortured'

Updated February 14, 2014
In this photograph taken on June 6, 2013,  Kareem Khan speaks to media during a press conference in Islamabad. – AFP
In this photograph taken on June 6, 2013, Kareem Khan speaks to media during a press conference in Islamabad. – AFP

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani drone activist who was freed on Friday after being kidnapped from his home last week told reporters that he was interrogated and tortured by his captors.

Kareem Khan was picked up from his home on the outskirts of Islamabad on February 5 by around 20 men, some in police uniform, just days before he was due to testify before European parliamentarians about US drone attacks.

He was bundled into a van, blindfolded and pushed off onto the road in the early hours of Friday morning, in the Tarnol suburb of the capital Islamabad, his lawyer Shahzad Akbar told AFP.

“He has been released,” Akbar said. “His hands weren't tied and he was able to remove his blindfold and took a taxi home after asking where he was.”

Khan, wearing a black and silver turban, told reporters about his ordeal late Friday.

“Some armed men in police clothes and plain civil uniform came in my house after midnight and took me with them. They tortured me. They punched me on the head, they slap my arms and they beat me with a stick,” Khan said.

Khan said that he was kept handcuffed throughout the detention and was asked about many names during torture.

“During the torture, they dropped many names and asked me if I know these persons. Some of them where drone victims, others were people he does not know.

“They were speaking different languages – Pashto, Punjabi – it is difficult to say if they were army, police or civilians,” Khan said.

“I can't say if it was because of the drones or anything else (that I was kidnapped), they were just asking me questions about these people. I still don't know why they kept me.”

Though Khan was not able to identify the men who had detained him, a Pakistani court on Wednesday had ordered the government to produce him by February 20 or provide the reason for his detention.

Khan had been staying in the outskirts of Islamabad with his wife, children and an uncle ahead of a trip to Europe planned for last week.

His lawyer Akbar had earlier described Khan as “pretty shaken up” and said he had been “tortured, beaten up, questioned, put in a cell, and handcuffed”.

“He was questioned about names and people in Waziristan. Many names he did not know about. He was questioned about his drone work, and was told not to speak to media otherwise they will come back for them,” Akbar said.

Khan, who was also a drone investigator, was fighting a legal case in which he had named both the CIA's former station chief and the Pakistani government for their roles in the US drone campaign in the country's tribal areas.

Khan's brother and teenage son were killed in a drone attack in their native North Waziristan in December 2009.

Pakistan last month passed a new law allowing its security forces to detain terror suspects for up to 90 days without disclosing their whereabouts or the allegations against them.

The law appeared to be an attempt to give legal cover to the cases of so-called “missing persons,” suspects who disappear into custody of the security services with no information given to their relatives.