2011 Tully Award for Free Speech
Journalist and investigative reporter
Pakistani journalist Umar Cheema is an investigative journalist with The News, a daily newspaper based in Karachi, Pakistan. As a special investigative correspondent, Cheema’s work for the paper centers on national security affairs, corruption, governance, politics and social justice. Cheema has characterized his reporting as “critical towards the ruling elite regarding their corruption, mal-governance and also about the army and intelligence agencies.”
In his work as an investigative journalist, Cheema has faced significant threats. Hostile attitudes toward reporters and members of the media have led to Pakistan’s reputation as the “world’s deadline country for the press in 2010,” as ranked by the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2010, eight journalists in the country were killed in connection with their work.
Cheema has faced these risks first hand. After writing a series of stories on lack of accountability within the military, governmental misconduct and inefficiencies on the part of intelligence agencies, Cheema was abducted in the early morning hours of Sept. 4, 2010. He was stripped naked, forced to lie with his face on the ground, blindfolded, handcuffed and beaten with a length of leather and a wooden rod. The men who tortured Cheema told him the violence was a consequence of his work as a journalist, and that if he continued to report, he would again be abducted.
Cheema’s work as a journalist has earned him accolades around the world. He was a Daniel Pearl Fellow with The New York Times, worked with The Times’ Washington Bureau, lectured at Columbia University and the Los Angeles Press Club, and served as secretary general of the Islamabad chapter of the South Asia Free Media Association.