Bassey keen to go back to Pakistan despite jail ordeal

Bassey is reunited with his mother Malkit

Sunday Mercury investigations editor Amardeep Bassey has vowed to return to Pakistan even though he has lost one-and-a-half stone after his 28-day prison ordeal.

His diet of lentil soup and naan bread twice a day for almost all his month in captivity has left him with a digestion problem.

But his biggest worry is for the two guides who voluntarily went into prison with him and were kept there after he left.

As a Sikh in a Muslim prison containing members of the Taliban and Al-Qaida, without the guides’ protection, he could not have coped, he said.

The journalist, who is shortlisted for Reporter of the Year, in the 2002 Press Gazette Regional Press Awards, was arrested on 10 May on a minor visa infringement as he crossed from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

His nightmare of interrogation on charges of spying and imprisonment in three jails – each worse than the last – was compounded by his only visit from a British High Commission official, who told him that he could be facing up to 15 years inside if he was charged.

Twelve days after he was arrested, he was told the authorities were satisfied that he was not a spy and that he was to be released. But he was kept another 15 days in an overcrowded, stinking cell in 40û C heat, without exercise, before he was taken, shackled and in his prison shalwar kameez to Peshawar Airport.

At Dubai, he was able to shower and clean up for his meeting at Heathrow with editor David Brookes and picture editor Adam Fradgley.

His washing facilities in prison had been a cold-water tap and a bucket beside rotting food piles and cockroaches.  He did not believe he was at last going home until his plane touched down at Heathrow last Friday, he said.

A very tired Bassey had been for a medical examination when Press Gazette caught up with him. He has been told to rest but is anxious to get back to work, saying he feels mentally and physically fit.

Bassey was in Landi Kotal Prison in the border area for seven days, and at the Special Branch Prison in Peshawar for six days. At Landi Kotal, he shared a cell with 55 others. At the Special Branch Prison he was incarcerated "in a dungeon", he said.

"The whole place was geared towards sensory deprivation. They would wake me at two o’clock in the morning for aggressive interrogation but by the third day they realised there was nothing to the allegations and I was allowed to walk outside and they got me some nice food from outside."

Bassey said: "From there I was taken to the political agent’s office prison where I spent 15 days locked up 24 hours a day with 30-odd other prisoners.  There was no exercise and a 40û C temperature outside. Considering that at that stage they had told me I was clear, they then decided to put me in the worst jail."

In the Sunday Mercury last weekend, Bassey said the guards who arrested him believed him to be a spy because he was wearing a wristwatch camera.

But he said his departure had not been a deportation but "externment" and he can go back to Pakistan.

"I want to go as soon as possible. I really enjoyed the tribal areas and made so many good friends including the two guides," he said.

 

Jean Morgan

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