Umar Cheema is a co-founder of Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan. He has set a high standard for quality journalism in a country where reporters are routinely attacked and murdered.
In 2010, he was kidnapped and tortured for writing critical stories about the government. Since then he has continued to write hard-hitting reports: his series exposing tax evasion by MPs forced the government to make public tax records of lawmakers and other citizens, while an investigation into a counter-terrorism fund that was used to buy wedding gifts, luxury carpets and gold jewelry for the relatives of ministers and dignitaries’ triggered reforms in the Ministry of Interior. His campaign helped expedite the introduction of a right to information law by a provincial government.
Cheema has received numerous awards for his reporting, including the Knight International Journalism Award, the International Press Freedom Award, the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Services in Journalism, the Tully Free Speech Award and the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.
In 2008, he won a Daniel Pearl Fellowship, becoming the first Pearl fellow to work at The New York Times. He holds a Master’s Degree in Mass Communication from Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan. He also attended the London School of Economics where he received a Master of Sciences Degree in Comparative Politics (Conflict Studies).
As a candidate for the new board in GIJN, he says:
I am a co-founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Pakistan. Registered in August 2012, CIRP was in global headlines in no time. In December that year, CIRP released its maiden work uncovering the tax evasion of MPs that was carried in major publications of North America and Europe. The UK Parliament also took up this tax report for indicting the Pakistani ruling elite over non-payment of taxes.
The CIRP has gained enormous attention since then after a recent governmental decision to make public the tax record–after the release of yet another of our reports on MPs’ taxes in 2013. Now, Pakistan is the fourth country in the world after Norway, Finland and Sweden where the tax directory is annually released.
The idea of setting up of CIRP was partly inspired by my participation in the Global Investigative Journalism Cconference held in Kiev in 2011. I got to know how journalists were doing amazing stuff in different countries through non-profit centers. Now, I feel motivated to spread GIJN throughout Asia that, right now, has very few countries hosting such centers. Even in South Asia, Pakistan and Nepal have such centers; their capacity issues apart. I want to be active part of the efforts made to spread the word in Asia and promote the network of investigative journalists.