Reacting sharply to Inter Services Intelligence's denial of involvement in the murder of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, a leading Pakistani newspaper publisher has claimed that the reporter had received death threats from the spy agency on at least three occasions.
Hameed Haroon, president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, said in a statement that Shahzad had confided to him and several others that 'he had received death threats from various ISI officers on at least three occasions in the past five years'.
The government and intelligence agencies should take the investigation into Shahzad's murder 'seriously and examine his last testimony closely', Haroon, who is also chief of the Dawn media group, said.
He said that 'nobody, not even the ISI, should be above the law'.
Following allegations from journalists' organisations and rights groups that the ISI was linked to the abduction of Shahzad on Sunday, an unnamed officer of the spy agency on Wednesday denied that his organisation was in any way linked to the kidnapping or killing of the reporter.
Shahzad went missing two days after he wrote a report in which he alleged that Al Qaeda had infiltrated the Pakistan Navy.
He contended that terrorists attacked a naval airbase in Karachi on May 22 after the failure of secret talks between Al Qaeda and the Navy for the release of naval personnel arrested for links to the terror network.
The reporter's body, with marks of severe torture, was found in a canal in Punjab province on Monday.
Journalists' groups have demanded that the government should set up a commission to probe his killing.
Months before his disappearance, Shahzad sent an email to Human Rights Watch researcher Ali Dayan Hasan in which he referred to threats he had received from the ISI.
However, an ISI official on Wednesday questioned the "baseless allegations" levelled by HRW on the basis of Shahzad's email.
Haroon said in his statement that Shahzad had sent three identical emails to HRW, his employers Asia Times Online and to his former employer (Haroon).
"I also wish to verify that allegations levied by HRW at the ISI are essentially in complete consonance with the contents of the slain journalist's email," he said.
"Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Mr Shahzad's last testimony. 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," Haroon said.
Shahzad had last informed Haroon about the death threats in an email sent on October 18, 2010, the publisher said.
"As president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society and as head of Pakistan's leading media group, I consider the security of journalists to be of paramount importance. Pakistan has one of the high rates in the world for journalists' killings and such an environment is inimical to the functioning of democracy," Haroon said.