Pakistani spy agencies under criticism a year after journalist’s murder
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies came under heavy criticism from global human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Tuesday, a year after journalist Saleem Shahzad’s abduction and assassination near the Pakistani capital.
“Pakistan must take urgent steps to bring [Shahzad’s] killers to justice and properly investigate claims of intimidation against journalists, including by intelligence services,” said Amnesty International in a statement released on the journalist’s death anniversary.
“Shahzad’s killing last year highlighted the perils faced by journalists in Pakistan,” said Polly Truscott, South Asia director at Amnesty International.
The journalist’s body, bearing marks of torture, was found near Mandi Bahauddin, 130 kilometres southeast of Islamabad – two days after his disappearance on May 29, 2011.
“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 six lost their lives,” said Truscott.
Two days prior to his abduction, Shahzad had published an article, alleging that Navy personnel sympathetic to Al Qaeda had facilitated an attack at a Pakistan Naval base.
In October 2010, Shahzad had told colleagues that he felt he had been threatened by the ISI for his reporting on Al Qaeda infiltration into Pakistan’s armed forces.
A government-appointed commission had investigated Shahzad’s murder, but was unable to identify his killers.
“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,” Truscott insisted.
This is not the first time that rights organisation have criticised Pakistani spy agencies, or that they have questioned Pakistani authorities over the journalist’s killing. Following the government inquiry report on Shahzad’s murder, the Human Rights Watch blamed the commission of being “fearful of confronting the ISI over Shahzad’s death.”
“The commission’s failure to get to the bottom of the Shahzad killing illustrates the ability of the ISI to remain beyond the reach of Pakistan’s criminal justice system,” HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams had said .
On May 17, the HRW urged the President Zardari not to sign a bill to authorize a newly formed national human rights commission until it is revised to “authorize investigations of the military and the intelligence agencies for human rights violations.”
Expressing its concern over the alleged “human rights violations by members of the armed forces and intelligence agencies,” the international watchdog urged the president to grant the commission “authority over abuses by the military and intelligence agencies.”
Tuesday’s statement from Amnesty International was worded in similar fashion:
“No government official should be above the law and they should be subjected to proper scrutiny whether the allegation of corruption by civil authorities or abductions by the intelligence services,” said Truscott.
“Pakistan must bring all perpetrators to justice in trials that meet international fair trial standards, without recourse to the death penalty.”