Pakistan: Demanding Justice For Saleem Shahzad

A month after the May 2011 abduction and murder of Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, bureau chief of Asia Online, the judicial commission set up to investigate the murder has lamented the lack of help forthcoming.

Many suspect that the country's intelligence agency was behind the abduction of Shahzad, a possibility he had shared with his colleagues several times. Ali Dayan, Pakistan's director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), was the first to mention possible involvement of Inter-sServices Intelligence agency (ISI), via Twitter:

@AliDayan: Journalist Saleem Shahzad feared abduction by #ISI. and left statement with#HRW in case of abduction. #FreeSaleemShahzad

People hold placards demanding an investigation into the killing of Saleem Shahzad. Image by Rajput Yasir, copyright Demotix (01/07/2011).)

People hold placards demanding an investigation into the killing of Saleem Shahzad. Image by Rajput Yasir, copyright Demotix (01/07/2011).)

In a report published a few hours before the discovery of Shahzad's body, Omar Warraich analyzed the possibility of the ISI's involvement.  The statement released by HRW was backed up by Hameed Haroon, president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS).

Ever since Shahzad's battered corpse appeared followed by a hurried burial by the police, without informing the family, journalists and human rights advocates have been outspoken in blaming the ISI for the murder. The response from the intelligence agency is widely believed to be disappointing and unsatisfactory.

Writing in response to the ISI's reaction on Shahazad's killing, I have tried to bring into focus similar cases in the past in my blog:

It strikes me tremendously odd that the ISI’s involvement in torture and making threatening calls to journalists is spoken of with such casualty. It appears to be a norm — even if torture inevitably leads to death, aided by a hushed burial. It’s a pity that these questions are being asked, knowingly that Shahzad’s torture that led to his death is not a unique case. Journalists like Wali Khan Babar, Zaman Ali and Hayat Ullah Khan have been killed in the line of duty.

The statement issued by the ISI is reflective of the relationship between our intelligence agencies and the people. It begins with denying involvement, showing sympathy to the aggrieved family and ends with a much familiar tone; a defensive one.

Writing on real dangers faced by journalists, Kalsoom Lakhani shared her personal story:

My sister is a journalist. She often notes that the instinctive human reaction to a disaster, attack or bomb blast is to run away. Journalists function counter-intuitively. They run towards the chaos. They put the story before their own lives. Their courage and commitment are often why citizens can be more informed participants in the conversation, why we have the ammunition to ask the questions that should be asked. Saleem Shahzad’s death was an enormous loss for a community of journalists who will continue to report in the face of censorship, harassment, and violence. It was an enormous loss for us all. RIP.

Blogger Kala Kawa penned down a blunt critique:

Ever since the 2nd of May, our military Lords and Masters have been on the back foot. Their response has been indignation. How else to explain the arrogance of Chief of Naval Staff Nauman Bashir in informing us that the brazen attack on PNS Mehran was “not a security failure”?

The ethos ingrained in our security high command is not “protect your people”, its “you can get away with anything.”And if getting away with something requires the murder of the citizens you have sworn to protect; so be it.Few things could be more repulsive.

A recent statement by Admiral Mike Mullen claims that the government sanctioned Shahzad's killing, but is vague in terms of providing evidence or elaborating on the involvement of the ISI. Ali Dayan of HRW have urged the United States government to provide information. The Pakistani authorities however have dismissed the allegations.

@AliDayan#SaleemShahzad was a father, husband & journalist. USG should make public any intel that helps hold his murderers accountable says @HRW

In the light of recent events and the concerns shared by the judicial commission, the investigation of Saleem Shahzad's murder appears to be in limbo. Unless substantial evidence and significant assistance is provided, it seems justice for Shahzad's family will be delayed inevitably.

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