(Washington, D.C.) — A year after the abduction and assassination of reporter Saleem Shahzad, Amnesty International today demands that Pakistan take urgent steps to bring his killers to justice and properly investigate claims of intimidation against journalists, including by intelligence services.
"Shahzad's killing last year highlighted the perils faced by journalists in Pakistan," said Polly Truscott, South Asia director at Amnesty International. "Pakistan remains one of the most dangerous countries for media workers, with at least three journalists killed in the past five months. Last year, at least nine lost their lives."
Just two days prior to his abduction in Islamabad on May 29, 2011, Shahzad published an article about an attack at a Pakistan Naval base. He alleged Navy personnel sympathetic to al-Qaida had facilitated the attack. On May 31, his body was found several miles outside Islamabad, showing signs of torture.
In October 2010, Shahzad had told colleagues that in a meeting with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency's media wing, he felt he had been threatened, because of his reporting on al-Qaida infiltration into Pakistan’s armed forces.
In its report published in January this year, a government inquiry into Shahzad’s murder said it was unable to identify his killers. It speculated that any of a number of state, non-state or foreign actors, including al-Qaida or the Taleban, could have been responsible.
Some journalists testified to receiving threats from the ISI, including the same ISI officials implicated by Shahzad.
The inquiry also revealed a trail of missing evidence that could have helped identify the perpetrators, including Shahzad’s mobile phone log, the vehicle from which he had been abducted and footage from the security cameras across Islamabad, including near his home.
Not a single witness to his abduction came forward, even though the route from Shahzad’s home to a T.V. station where he had been due to conduct an interview passed through several police checkpoints.
"There was a sophisticated, well-organized attempt by Shahzad’s killers to cover their tracks — all the more reason why Pakistan’s intelligence services, especially the ISI, must be thoroughly investigated," said Truscott.
The inquiry criticized police for failing to adequately question the ISI about Shahzad. Though the panel itself allowed the ISI representatives to submit prepared statements, and subjected them to limited questioning.
"No government official should be above the law, added Truscott. "They should be subjected to proper scrutiny, whether the allegation is corruption by civil authorities or abductions by the intelligence services."
Amnesty International has documented attacks on journalists in Pakistan by the Taleban and al-Qaida, political parties, criminal gangs and security forces with the failure to prosecute fostering a climate of impunity.
"Pakistan must bring all perpetrators to justice, in trials that meet international standards, without recourse to the death penalty," concluded Truscott. "Amnesty International calls on the authorities to uphold internationally recognized human rights protections, such as such as the right to information, freedom of speech and right to life that are also enshrined in the Pakistan Constitution.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.