Today we mourn the loss of a colleague Syed Saleem Shahzad whose body was found in Sarai Alamgir on Tuesday. Innallila wa innalaha rajaoon. This tragedy is sadly reflective not only of the conditions in the country, but the particularly dangerous conditions for journalists who risk their very lives to shine a light on the truth.
It must be noted that Saleem Shahzad is the fifth journalist killed in Pakistan this year alone. Preceeding his death the profession has also lost Ilyas Nizzar (Darwanth), Zaman Ibrahim (Daily Extra News), Wali Khan Babr (Geo) and Nasrullah Khan Afridi (PTV). Last year, Pakistan was declared most dangrous country in the world for journalists. 16 journalists were killed.
Like his colleagues, Saleem Shahzad dedicated his life to his country by investigating and reporting on the ills of society so that they can be exposed and corrected. Saleem Shahzad’s last article published was a behind-the-scenes account of the terrorist attack on PNS Mehran. This was the first of a two-part series, the next piece to be on recruitment and training of militants.
According to a report by Saleem Shahzad’s newspaper Asia Times, “Shahzad had on several occasions been warned by officials of the ISI over articles they deemed to be detrimental to Pakistan’s national interests or image.” Omar Waraich of TIME reports that Human Rights Watch has been able to confirm that Shahzad was being held by ISI.
“We were informed through reliable interlocutors that he was detained by the ISI,” says Hasan. Those interlocutors, he adds, had received direct confirmation from the agency that it was detaining Shahzad. In any case, Hasan says, “in a high-security zone like Islamabad, it is only the ISI that can effect the disappearance of man and his car without a trace.”
Such a report is troubling, but does offer a place to begin looking for those responsible. First, though, we should not make assumptions but carefully investigate and let the pieces fall as they may. If Shahzad was released from ISI custody, the agency should have some clues as to who may have grabbed him after his release. If Shahzad was not released from ISI custody, then those responsible should face justice. We agree with the conclusion of Omar Waraich:
The principal threats, human-rights campaigners say, come from military-intelligence agencies and Islamist militants. “As a consequence, it is becoming difficult for journalists to perform their basic professional duties in the context of a war between the Pakistani state and the militants,” Hasan says. “Both parties target journalists, arbitrarily and with brutality.” Human Rights Watch has called on Pakistan’s government to locate Shahzad, return him safely to his home and hold those who held him “illegally” accountable. “To date, no intelligence personnel have been held accountable for frequently perpetrated abuses against journalists,” laments Hasan. “Tolerance for these practices has to end, now.”
As we remember our fallen colleague, the greatest monument to his memory and his legacy will be to end the threat to journalists in Pakistan.