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Inquiry unable to find culprits of journalist's murder

Saleem Shahzad
Saleem Shahzad

An official investigation into the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad, who reported that Islamist militants had infiltrated the military, was unable to find his murderers, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Shahzad vanished last May after leaving his home in Islamabad to appear on a television talk show, two days after writing an article about links between the navy and Al-Qaeda.

A government commission set up to investigate the death, which was comprised of senior judges, provincial police chiefs and a journalist representative, was "unable to identify the culprits behind this incident," said its concluding report released last week. The report said the inquiry had met 23 times, interviewed 41 witnesses, and examined a large volume of relevant documents.

The report recommended that the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (Pakistan's main spy agency) and Intelligence Bureau be made more accountable and their interactions with media "carefully institutionally streamlined and regularly documented." The report also advised the government to offer substantial compensation to Shahzad's family.

Shahzad, who worked for an Italian news agency and the "Asia Times" online website told Human Rights Watch he had been threatened by intelligence agents. The Inter-Services Intelligence directorate has denied as "baseless" allegations that it was involved in his murder.

"This latest highly touted exercise in justice appears to be a recycle of the near-perfect impunity which surrounds the killing of journalists in Pakistan," said CPJ.

As CPJ has noted in the past, even with high profile investigations, the pattern has been that they have no effect on bringing the killers of journalists to justice, whether or not the country's military and security establishments are involved.

CPJ points to the 2006 investigation into the death of freelance reporter Hayatullah Khan, who upset the military by revealing photographic evidence that the U.S. had conducted a missile strike into Pakistani territory, despite Pakistan's claims otherwise. Six years later, calls from Hayatullah's family to release the results of the special investigation have gone unanswered.

The only time there has been an investigation, arrests, a prosecution and sentencing of anyone accused of killing a journalist in Pakistan was in the case of the 2002 beheading of the U.S. "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl.

And still the killing of journalists in Pakistan continues. Just this week, Mukarram Khan Atif, a correspondent for Washington-based Deewa Radio and a reporter for the TV station Dunya News, was shot dead in a mosque near Peshawar on 17 January, report CPJ, the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

The banned militant organisation Tehreek-e-Taliban has claimed responsibility, saying Atif had refused to give radio coverage to the Taliban. They also said other journalists were on their hit list, reports RSF.

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    The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the killing of Mukarram Khan Atif, in response to his refusal to give coverage to the Taliban on his radio station.



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