Freedom of the press: Hundreds bury journalist who was tortured to death

Saleem Shahzad had written on links between rogue elements in the navy, al Qaeda.

Afp June 01, 2011


Hundreds of mourners turned out Wednesday for the burial of a journalist who was tortured and said he was threatened by the country’s intelligence services, as his colleagues demanded protection.

Saleem Shahzad, a 40-year-old father of three, vanished after leaving home in Islamabad to appear on a television talk show, two days after writing an article about links between rogue elements of the navy and al Qaeda.

His grief-stricken relatives have demanded a full investigation but have not apportioned blame for his killing, which came five years after he was briefly kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and accused of being a spy.

Shahzad carved out a career writing about the plethora of Islamist militant networks in Pakistan, and warned human rights campaigners before his disappearance that he had been threatened by the Inter-Services Intelligence.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned his murder and said his “reporting on terrorism and intelligence issues in Pakistan brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan’s stability”.

Shahzad’s body was found Tuesday, about 150 kilometres southeast of Islamabad. Police said it bore marks of torture. “The cause of death is torture and there are several signs of torture on his body and face,” said Ashok Kumar, one of the doctors who carried out a post-mortem at Islamabad’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Science. Another doctor told AFP that Shahzad’s lungs and liver had been damaged, and that the body was swollen and bore more than 15 signs of having been beaten.

Around 300 people, mostly relatives and journalists, attended the funeral prayers and Shahzad was buried in a cemetery near Seaview as he hailed from Karachi.

“We have lost everything. What can we do now?” sobbed his son, Fahad Saleem.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists announced two days of mourning and a spokesman said members would organise protests nationwide on Friday. “I can’t blame anyone at the moment. I’ll analyse the whole episode before making any statement,” said Wasim Fawad, a brother of Shahzad. “My brother was killed for writing the truth. He paid a huge price, he sacrificed his life but always spoke the truth.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that a police investigation had been ordered and promised a reward of nearly $30,000. But reporters and press groups say previous enquiries into the killings of journalists have not been made public and said they expected little this time.

Reporters Without Borders says that 16 journalists have now been killed since the start of 2010 in Pakistan, which it ranks 151st out of 178 countries in its press freedom index.

In Peshawar, which has suffered heavily from attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, dozens of journalists carried placards demanding the state provide security to members of their profession.

“Several journalists have been killed in the past years in Pakistan but the government has completely failed to arrest the culprits,” said Arshad Aziz Malik, president of the Khyber Union of Journalists.

Shahzad worked for Italian news agency Adnkronos International and Asia Times Online, a news site registered in Hong Kong. After he vanished on Sunday, AKI said they feared he had been kidnapped.

Last Friday, Shahzad published an investigative report in Asia Times Online saying that the attack on a naval air base was carried out to avenge the arrest of naval officials on suspicion of al Qaeda links.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2011.

A slideshow of pictures from his burial in Karachi can be viewed here.


sundar | 10 years ago | Reply It is a shame so many journalists are being killed in Pakistan every year for speaking the truth. As a homage for this brave man I wish every reasonable media outlet re-print 'Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike '.
Sultan Ahmed | 10 years ago | Reply History will remember him for long time.
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