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Government urged to set up Shahzad judicial commission by 10 June

(IFJ/IFEX) - June 3, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) fully backs a call by its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), for the Government of Pakistan to establish by June 10 a judicial commission to investigate the disappearance and murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad.

PFUJ president Pervaiz Shaukat said journalists from throughout Pakistan would assemble in Islamabad and stage a sit-in at the Parliament if the commission was not set up by this date.

The deadline was set at a meeting of senior union leaders and journalists in Islamabad on June 2, where the PFUJ also sought unity with the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS).

APNS president Hameed Haroon issued a statement on June 2 in which he confirmed Shahzad had reported receiving threatening messages on at least three occasions, allegedly from members of the intelligence arm of the Pakistan military, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

"Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Mr Shahzad's last testimony," Haroon said in his statement. "Mr Shahzad's purpose in transmitting this information to three concerned colleagues in the media was not to defame the ISI but to avert a possible fulfilment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat."

The head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Zohra Yusuf, was reported as saying that although there was no conclusive evidence, "circumstances seem to point to state security agencies because there have been other cases where journalists have been picked up", according to Reuters.

The ISI denies involvement in the murder of Shahzad, 40, who disappeared in Islamabad on May 29. Shahzad's tortured body was found on May 31 at Mandi Bahauddin, about 150km southeast of Islamabad in Punjab province.

On May 27, Shahzad published on Asia Times Online an investigative report into alleged links between Al-Qaeda and Pakistani naval officials. It was to be the first of a two-part series. However, an editor's note on the website says Shahzad had not completed the second part of his report and it will therefore not be published.

"The IFJ commends the courage of journalists in Pakistan at this distressing and dangerous time," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said. "We and journalists around the world will not rest until all murderers of journalists in Pakistan are brought to justice."

Black flags have been hoisted at union offices and press clubs throughout the country, and PFUJ members will conduct a protest outside the Parliament today.

Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, for whom Shahzad was the Pakistan bureau chief, is establishing a trust fund for his wife Anita and three teenage children.

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