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Union wins government backing for murder inquiry

(IFJ/IFEX) - June 16, 2011 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes a move by Pakistan's Government to accept the terms of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) for appointing a judicial commission headed by a Supreme Court judge to investigate the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad.

As journalists from across Pakistan staged a 24-hour sit-in outside the Federal Parliament in Islamabad to demand a full and independent investigation, the Government said in the early hours of June 16 it would appoint the Supreme Court's Justice Saqib Nisar to lead the inquiry.

The PFUJ had rejected an earlier government proposal to appoint the Chief Justice of the Federal Shariat Court, Agha Mohammad Rafique, to head the commission.

The protesters ended their sit-in after Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told the PFUJ leadership that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had signed documents at 3am to appoint Justice Nisar. The commission's other terms will be determined in consultation with the PFUJ.

"The IFJ is relieved that Pakistan's Government has agreed with the demands of the PFUJ and local journalists for the inquiry into Shahzad's murder," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

"We reiterate our position that the inquiry must be conducted promptly and transparently, and provide firm recommendations to bring to justice the killers of Shahzad."

Up to 1000 journalists and members of civil society, rights activists, lawyers and senior politicians from almost all political parties joined the sit-in from the afternoon of June 15, according to the PFUJ, an IFJ affiliate.

Television anchors hosted their programs from the protest site to highlight the dangers confronting media personnel in Pakistan.

Shahzad disappeared in Islamabad on May 29, two days after publishing on Asia Times Online an investigative report into alleged links between Al-Qaeda and Pakistani naval officials. His body was found about 150km away on May 31.

The PFUJ and the IFJ had demanded the Government set up a commission of inquiry headed by a Supreme Court judge by June 10.

Minister Awan also advised the PFUJ that the Government would assess the union's other demands, which include assurance of compensation to the families of killed journalists equal to that received by members of the police and military.

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