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Pak: ISI abducts journalist for expose on navy base attack

By Tahir Ali
Last updated on: May 31, 2011 15:58 IST
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Pakistani senior journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who went missing on Sunday, is in the custody of Inter-Services Intelligence, according to the Human Rights Watch.

He invited the wrath of the powerful intelligence agency after he wrote an investigative piece about the recent attack by the Al Qaeda on the PNS Mehran naval base in Karachi.

The HRW has learnt through credible sources that Shahzad is in custody of the ISI, the organisation's Pakistan representative Ali Dayan Hasan has said.

Dayan said that the ISI remains a major human rights abuser in Pakistan, and that it frequently keeps abusing and torturing journalists it disagrees with.

Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan bureau chief and he also works as the South Asian bureau chief for Italian news agency AdnKronos International.

Saleem was abducted at roughly 6 pm on Sunday while he was on his way to participate in a TV talk show. Since then, he has made no contact with his family and no one knows about his whereabouts. His mobile phone remained switched off and his car could not be traced.

An FIR has also been lodged following the incident.

On Monday night, someone from the intelligence agency called one of his friends and promised that Shahzad would be released soon.

Talking to, Umar Cheema, senior investigative correspondent for The News, said, "This disappearance is highly unfortunate and very alarming; more so after the statement of the Human Rights Watch that Saleem has been picked up by the ISI. Every passing event makes us realise how important it is to hold the ISI accountable by formalising its operations.This is high time (that it is done), otherwise nobody would feel safe." 

Incidentally, Cheema himself was picked by Pakistan's security agencies in September last year. He was stripped naked and tortured. His attackers had accused him of writing against the government.

Speaking on the issue, political commentator Dr Ayesha Siddiqa told, "Our colleague Shahzad was picked up while he was doing his job as a journalist, most probably for doing a story about the involvement of naval personnel in the PNS Mehran attack. The manner in which he was picked up was criminal."  

According to his friends and colleagues, Shahzad was under pressure over his writings about Al Qaeda and Taliban activities in the region, but his recent article about the Karachi naval base attack was the last straw.

In the article, Shahzad wrote, "The Al Qaeda carried out the brazen attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi on May 22 after talks failed between the navy and Al Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of Al Qaeda links, an Asia Times Online investigation reveals."

Shahzad had recently written a book Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond bin Laden and 9/11 that was published by Pluto Press UK.

According to a friend of the journalist, "He was asked by the agencies not to publish his book, but he did not relent to their demands and that is one of the reasons behind his abduction."

Ironically, though Shahzad's disappearance and suspected abduction is the hottest topic of discussion among journalists and human rights activists in Islamabad, no one has staged any protest against it.

Khushnood Ali Khan, president of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors, said, "The abduction of Shahzad is a matter of grave concern for all journalists. How is it possible to pick up someone in a secure area like Islamabad; the agencies could be blamed for it. We ask the government for the immediate recovery of Shahzad."

The International Federation of Journalists has appealed to the government of Pakistan to immediately find Shahzad.

"The IFJ is deeply worried for the safety of Shahzad; We appeal as a matter of urgency to Pakistan 's government to do all it can to find Shahzad quickly, and to prove a commitment to reverse Pakistan 's poor track record in investigating abuses against journalists," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

Giuseppe Marra, president and director of AdnKronos International, said, "As soon as possible, I hope to hug him as a friend."

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has expressed serious alarm at the incident and issued a statement saying, "(the fact that) a state agency might have been involved in his disappearance is exceedingly disturbing. It has been suggested that Shahzad's reporting after a terrorist attack on a navy aviation base in Karachi might have something to do with his abduction."

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Tahir Ali Islamabad