Still no justice for murdered journalist Saleem Shahzad
A year has somehow charged past since the abduction and murder of Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad, a full 12 months in which no suspect has been identified, no-one charged with his killing and nobody brought to justice.
The 40-year-old correspondent of Asia Times Online, disappeared on the evening of May 29, a Sunday, as he made his way to an Islamabad television studio where he was due to talk about this latest scoop. He never got there. Immediately there were fears that he had been abducted by the ISI. Two days later his badly beaten body was discovered close to a canal in the village of Mandi Bahauddin, around 100 miles south of Islamabad. A post-mortem report concluded that he had been tortured and that his corpse showed at least 17 injuries.
What was it that Saleem was on his way to talk about? Two days before he went missing, he had published an article about the May 22 2011 attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi, claiming al-Qa’ida had carried out the assault after the break-down of talks between the military and militants over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of having al-Qa’ida links. [The military recently convicted three naval officers for negligence but denied they were complicit in the attack.]
In the aftermath of his murder there was outrage. It was revealed that in the days and weeks before his death, he had spoken of his concern that he was being targeted by the ISI, who wanted to know about his sources both within the military and among militant outfits. In October 2010, he was called in for a meeting by the ISI over an earlier story during which an ISI official made a comment that Saleem took to be a direct threat.
In an email to Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch, Saleem had forwarded details of the meting when he was questioned by senior ISI officials, among them Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, a naval officer. “Dear Hasan,” he had written. ”I am forwarding this email to you for your record only if in case something happens to me or my family in future.”
As journalists and campaigners demanded justice, the ISI took the almost unprecedented step of denying its involvement in the killing. The government announced there would be a inquiry by a commission made up of jurists, police officers and representatives of the journalism world. His wife was given 3m Pakistani rupees (around £20,000) by means of his compensation. The outrage of journalists – with the exception of those who picked up their pens to dare suggest that Saleem had brought events upon himself – reflected the fact that their country was one of the very deadliest for the media to work in.
Saleem has been failed in several ways. Firstly, the commission established to investigate his murder was unable to identify any culprit other than to say it believed his death was related to his reporting on the “war on terror” and the often murky machinations of the Pakistani authorities. “The Pakistani state, the non-state actors such as the Taliban and al Qaeda, and foreign actors” could all have had a motive to silence him, it concluded. Even most of its recommendations have not been enacted.
“The enquiry took seven months and yet it produced nothing,” Saleem’s brother-in-law, Hamza Ameer, told me this week. “Its findings were the things that were discussed in the first month after the killing.”
The second way in which Saleem has been let down is that for all the vows that efforts would be made to protest journalists, media workers in Pakistan still pay with their lives for doing their jobs. Five have been killed since Saleem was murdered, the most recent killing being that of Razzaq Gul, a reporter with the Express News in southern Balochistan. The ISI and other elements within the security establishment continue to threaten and intimidate journalists and activists.
In a statement issued this week, Amnesty International urged – hope against hope – that the ISI’s alleged role in the killing be more thoroughly investigated. “There was a sophisticated, well-organised attempt by Shahzad’s killers to cover their tracks – all the more reason why Pakistan’s intelligence services, and especially the ISI, must be thoroughly investigated,” said Polly Truscott, South Asia director at Amnesty International.
Ali Dayan Hasan, whom Saleem turned to when he started to fear the ISI was targetting him, said that Pakistan remains one of the most perilous places for journalists. “A year on, and after all the outrage, protests and legal proceedings, the sorry fact is that Saleem Shahzad’s killers remain at large. For media professionals in Pakistan the message remains just as chilling as it a year ago: if you cross arbitrary red lines, you will pay for it with your life,” he said in an email. “Shahzad’s killers must be brought to justice; for the sake of his family, his colleagues and to safeguard the right to free speech in Pakistan.”
Saleem’s wife, Anita, has returned to Karachi, where she does her best to raise their three children – Fahad, a 15-year-old boy, their 13-year-old daughter Amna, and 10-year-old Rehman Shah, a young boy who suffers from autism. After the murder, while friends and relatives sought to push the commission to come up with answers, Anita said she had no alternative but to focus on the children.
And so it is a year on. Today, Saleem friends and relatives will say memorial prayers for him in Karachi, remembering the jocular but committed journalist who was also a husband, a father and a friend. His wife declined to comment but in a statement passed on through her brother, Mr Ameer, she underscored how she was not expecting a breakthrough. She said: “We have no expectations of anyone.”Tagged in: asia, attacks on media, journalism, Pakistan
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