Exiled Pak journalist Taha Siddiqui pens comic book on hounding by Pak Army

Story by  ANI | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 30-03-2023
Taha Siddiqui standing outside his Cafe Dissent Club in Paris (Twitter)
Taha Siddiqui standing outside his Cafe Dissent Club in Paris (Twitter)



Taha Siddiqui, an award-winning journalist who fled Pakistan after escaping a kidnapping attempt, shared his tale in the comic book-style autobiography "Dissident Club," reported France24.

In an exclusive interview with France24, Siddiqui spoke to Gavin Lee on Perspective and shared details of how he fled from Pakistan after attempting and escaping an attempted kidnapping.

 "Well, that happened in 2018 and that's where the book actually opens with because this is the scene which is before and after of my life, so I thought we should open the book with that. And basically in 2018 I was attacked in Pakistan and I was kidnapped by armed men that I believe to be from the Pakistan military. And the attack happened after receiving threats for many years from the Pakistan military. From my investigations, whether it was the investigation into the tribal belt, the investigation into the human rights abuses of the military, I used to report for France 24, I used to report for English American media, for the New York Times, for Guardian, et cetera," said Siddiqui.

He's now exiled in France and has since discovered he's on a kill list in Pakistan and can never return to his home country. In 2020, Taha opened a bar in Paris to help people in exile like himself, called The Dissident Club. That's also the name of his autobiographical story, which has just been published in France - not as a traditional first-person account, but in comic book format.

"And several times preceding to this attack, I was told by the military that I should behave, which I did not, I guess, and then eventually the attack on my life. And then shortly after the attack, I was told that if I do not shut up and go quiet, I could be killed. And I had to leave the country. And I came to France naturally, because of all the connections I had here," said the exiled Pakistani journalist.

Speaking about enforced disappearances and persons behind his kidnapping attempt, Siddiqui said, "Definitely from what I understand, I mean in Pakistan we have something called the enforced disappearances when people go missing without trials, without any process and this is what I was a victim of and the enforced disappearances, the Pakistan military is behind it a number of human rights organisations globally have called out the Pakistan military for that."

He blamed the Pakistan Military's Intelligence wing the ISI carrying out the enforced disappearances. On January 10, he posted his ordeal on Twitter:

"We know that people went missing just last week in Pakistan. According to independent estimates more than 15,000 people are missing in Pakistan and they are languishing in secret prisons and I was actually investigating those secret prisons and that's again another story in the book," he said.

Delving into idea behind Dissident Club, he said, "I had to do something to sort of be financially sustainable. But I thought that I would do something which is related to my journalism. And because of the attack, I had become more of an advocacy journalist rather than just a journalist. So I wanted to sort of create a space where I could bring people like me together and sort of introduce them to French society. Because when I came here in the beginning, I felt a bit alone, and I felt like as a refugee, a political refugee, it's not an easy life. You don't have the same networks, you don't have the same friends, you don't have the same family. And I wanted to sort of create a space that could provide me with that and also other people like me with that and then sort of connect them with the French society. So since 2020 January 2020, I've been running the Dissident Club. And it's a place where we do different kinds of cultural activities, social activities, and intellectual activities. We do projections of documentaries, debates, conferences, performances, and we try to bring Dissidents from around the world together."

Growing up in a religious family in Pakistan, exiled journalist Taha Siddiqui wasn't allowed comic books.

"My father was very religious", Siddiqui told France24, adding that his father believed that comic books and any drawings of the human body were "not allowed in Islam."

But now the journalist, who has been living in Paris since 2018, is using that medium to tell his story of surviving an attempted kidnapping and other threats.

Released in France in March, Dissident Club is a comic book-style autobiography. And Siddiqui sees publishing it as an act of resistance.

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"The idea was to use my life as an experience to give other people sort of like a look into how things happen in these countries where children are grown up in such environments, what happens to them. And in a way, my stories are a bit of hope, even though the ending is about me leaving Pakistan. But I survived and today I'm here and I'm happy that I've been able to do something out of this," said Siddiqui