Being a journalist in Pakistan is a very dangerous profession as there are those in my country who believe that expressing opinions that is contrary to theirs and raising voice in protest against some of the things that are occurring here, is such a great “crime” that you can be captured and tortured to death.
So I am sad report that another victim of shocking state of affairs in Pakistan another “truth-seeker” has been silenced.
Investigative journalist, Syed Saleem Shahzad, 40, Bureau Chief for the Hong Kong based Asia Times Online and correspondent for an Italian wire agency, had gone missing from Islamabad on Sunday evening.
Now Shahzad’s body has been recovered from the Head Rasul area in Mandi Bahauddin (Punjab province), nearly 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Islamabad. Earlier, his car was recovered from the Sahara-i-Alamgir, about six miles from where his body was found.
Saleem Shahzad’s brother-in-law, Hamza Ameer, said, “Shahzad had been working for Asia Times Online for around 10 years. He was a very brave journalist. He was scheduled to appear on a talk show at a local news channel in Islamabad on Sunday evening, and he left his residence in F/8-4 Islamabad around 5:30 pm.
“Then, in a few moments, his cell phone stopped responding, and the news channel tried to contact him several times, as he didn’t show up. They tried to reach us and informed us that Shahzad didn’t reach the station.”
Ameer further said, “We rushed to the Margalla police station and lodged a complaint about Shahzad’s mysterious disappearance.”
The Inspector General of the Islamabad Police, Wajid Durrani, said, ‘After lodging of the complaint about Saleem Shahzad’s disappearance, we had started the probe. Initially it was revealed that his
cell phone got turned off near his house in F/8-4 Islamabad, which indicates that he was kidnapped close to his residence.
“On Monday, the Saddar Police Station in Sahara-i-Alamgir, near Jhelum, informed us that they had found Shahzad’s car which contained his ID (Identity Card) and other documents which confirmed that the car belonged to Shahzad. The police recovered his body from Head Rasul near Mandi Bahauddin, we informed the family and called them to identify the body, after confirmation the arrangements were made to shift the body to Islamabad. There were clear signs of torture on the body, the body was sent for a postmortem.”
A fellow journalist, Omar Waraich, said, “Shahzad had complained that he was receiving threats from the leading agency ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) for writing various articles on the agency’s activities. Shahzad was picked up just days after he wrote his last report, in which he made some explosive allegations regarding the PNS Mehran* attack. He had claimed that the attack had been carried out by the 313 Brigade of Al Qaeda, headed by Ilyas Kashmiri, and was in retaliation for detention of navy personnel for alleged terrorist links. He had also claimed that it followed a breakdown in contact between the navy and Al Qaeda over this issue.”
Nasim Zehra, director of current affairs at Dunya News channel said, “On Sunday evening Saleem Shahzad was supposed to speak about the PNS Mehran [see below] attack and give a few details about his findings, he responded to a call at around 5:45pm and said that he was on his way.”
Human Rights Watch Pakistan representative, Ali Dayan Hasan, on Monday alleged that Saleem Shahzad was abducted by the ISI and that they had documented similar cases of abduction and torture of journalists by security agencies.
Another fellow journalist from Islamabad said, “I am profoundly shocked. Bright, well-read, articulate, truthful, and committed to his profession, this is a huge loss. I suppose it would be too much to ask the authorities that the story of his murder be investigated and those found guilty should be punished. He was very excited about the launch of his first book, ‘Inside Al-Qaeda & the Taliban, Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11’”.
The postmortem report revealed that the cause of death was liver failure and ruptured lungs, there were 15 visible wounds on the body and the ribs were also broken.
Najam Sethi, an analyst and editor in chief of The Friday Times, said, “Saleem Shahzad’s last story for Asia Times Online revealed how Al-Qaeda had penetrated the Pakistan Navy. The police and the authorities are stressing that Shahzad was abducted by Al-Qaeda / Taliban operatives and they murdered him. I totally disagree with this theory; this is not the way the Taliban and Al-Qaeda operates. They immediately take their victim to North Wazistan or the Tribal areas, interrogate him and release a complete video showing the whole world that they have abducted someone on the charges of having ties with the United States and then kill that person.
“In Shahzad`s case we don’t see any such activity. My experience points a finger at the intelligence agencies, the reason is that they abduct a person interrogate him, torture him and release the person, as previously seen. During the interrogation the person is subjected to third degree torture, during the process it is difficult for the interrogators to determine that how much torture can a person bear. The abductors were not aware of the fact that several years ago, Saleem Shahzad got into a fight and he was shot in the left side in the ribs, he ultimately survived, but his left ribs were weak.
“Another injury on his left side would have been fatal, the abductors severely tortured him, his left ribs were broken and the lungs collapsed. I have also experienced torture by the agencies back in 1999. I barely survived a heart attack during the interrogation by the agencies.”
Shahzad Saleem has left behind, a wife, two sons aged fourteen and seven, and a daughter aged twelve.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, “We have formed a commission to investigate the matter and are probing the involvement of the ISI, the report will be made public very soon.”
Last September, Umar Cheema, an investigative reporter for The News, an influential Pakistani daily, was kidnapped, blindfolded, stripped naked, had his head and eyebrows shaved, assaulted, filmed in humiliating positions and dumped on the side of the road six hours later.
“If you can’t avoid rape,” one of his interrogators jeered during the ordeal, “enjoy it.” The perpetrators were never found, but when asked about his suspicions, Cheema said “I have suspicions and every journalist has suspicions that all fingers point to the ISI.”
These are not isolated incidents, there have been many cases of journalists being attacked and targeted for the kind of news coverage that is detrimental to the Pakistani government or army.
With regard to freedom of Press, the organization Reporters Without Borders rates Pakistan 151 out of 178 countries. The number of journalists’ deaths have gone up in the last couple of years, with 10 of them being killed this year alone.
In January, Wali Khan Babar, a Geo News senior reporter, was gunned down in Karachi, while in April, Abdullah Bhittani, a reporter was shot three in Rawalpindi but managed to survive.
* Terrorists owing allegiance to Pakistan Taliban had on May 22 stormed the Mehran naval airbase in Karachi, killing at least 16 people, including 10 soldiers. They laid siege to the installation for 15 hours, before the Pakistani security forces reclaimed it. Two US-made P-3C Orions, Pakistan’s premier anti-submarine and marine surveillance aircraft, were destroyed in the attack. The terror strike at the Mehran naval base sent alarm bells ringing in the Indian security establishment.
Note from Dan Wooding: Please pray for the safety of our Pakistan journalists who are doing such a fine job for us.
Rodrick Sampson is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan