After the completion of the judicial inquiry into journalist Saleem Shahzad’s murder, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern over the commission’s inability to name the culprits and called for the Government of Pakistan to “redouble efforts” in the case.
A news release by the Human Rights Watch on Monday claimed that it had extensively documented the Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI) alleged intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances, and killings of many journalists, and fears that the commission’s failure in naming a culprit hints back to the ISI’s “stronghold over the country’s judicial system.”
HRW Asia Director Brad Adams, in the release, says: “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… The government still has the responsibility to identify those responsible for Shahzad’s death and hold them accountable, no matter where the evidence leads.”
Adams added that Shahzad had made it clear to the HRW that should he be killed, the ISI should be considered the principal suspect. “He had not indicated he was afraid of being killed by militant groups or anybody else.”
The HRW release said that the power of ISI over the commission was visible from the fact that journalist Umar Cheema was not called to record his statements in the case. Cheema was also abducted, tortured and then dumped 120 kilometers from his residence in Islamabad in September 2010. Cheema had alleged that his abductors were from Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
It is inexplicable that the commission failed to seek Cheema’s testimony despite his very public allegations against the ISI and repeated offers to testify before the commission, Human Rights Watch said.
“ISI abuses will only stop if it is subject to the rule of law, civilian oversight, and public accountability,” Adams said. “It is the government’s duty to insist on such accountability and the military’s duty to submit to it. The ISI needs to stop acting as a state within a state.”
Shahzad was abducted while driving from his house to a television station in Islamabad on May 29 last year, two days after he alleged in an article that al Qaeda had infiltrated the Pakistan Navy. His body, bearing marks of torture, was found the next day in a canal near Mandi Bahauddin, a district of Punjab province.
Rights groups and journalists’ bodies had alleged that he was killed by the ISI.
The high-level judicial commission, headed by Supreme Court judge Justice Saqib Nisar, presented its report to the prime minister after six months of its formation but did not hold anyone responsible for the abduction, torture and murder of the journalist.
Shahzad’s family had termed the report “disappointing”.