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A Dead Journalist’s Story: No Justice for those killed by ISI

By Atika Rehman

January 14, 2012

I once attended a workshop organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross where the discussion was about reporting in conflict zones. The event held at the Karachi press club attracted an eclectic group of journalists who shared anecdotes and voiced concerns. One conclusion was drawn at the end of it all: dead journalists don’t file stories. That’s a fact, I had thought at the time. Such a simple statement but it contains a serious warning; don’t get yourself killed in the process of getting a scoop; you may not live to see more bylines in print.

Today, when I read the report published by the judicial commission probing the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, the meaning of that ‘conclusion’ changed. Allow me to explain.

The report contains statements from those seeking justice, friends, colleagues and well-wishers. An example is the statement of Ali Dayan of Human Rights Watch, in which he said: “I have reasons to believe that Saleem Shahzad was abducted by the ISI. My judgment is based upon my extensive experience of documenting other such incidents committed by the ISI and other security agencies in Pakistan”. Dayan further says that, after Shahzad’s disappearance, credible sources claimed that Shahzad was in the custody of intelligence agencies and would be released and that the slain journalist himself had claimed to have received threats by the ISI.

Another individual who gave a statement to the commission was Matiullah Jan, Deputy Bureau Chief, Dawn News, who said that Shahzad was killed by the ISI. He states: “The way some of the ISI officials approached me and my superiors in Dawn Office, it is a matter of record especially when they asked about the family members and my children and I construe it to be a threat because asking for this kind of information is, in fact, tantamount to intimidation and harassment”.

Apart from this, the report also contains statements from the ISI officers. They defended themselves and their organisation in their statements, claiming that imposters could have threatened Shahzad and even managed to defame him in the process, by mentioning that he proclaimed to have been approached by RAW agents.

This is all relevant, because even in death, Shahzad’s story, this commission report, gives its readers food for thought: even after all the statements, cell phone records, e-mails and a corpse that bore torture signs, no one has been named or pointed to as the killer.

And like every news story, this one’s objectivity can also be questioned. Why did the commission not question the officials in the Obama administration who told The New York Times that they had “classified intelligence” that showed that “senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on him”?

Why is the report’s language framed to make excuses for the ISI? With its rhetoric of “probably” and “could have” when referring to the possibility of Shahzad’s writings offending militants, the commission’s language is in keeping with the ISI’s alibis. It really makes one wonder how easy it is to blame anything on militants; and why these militants would be silent about his death? Since when have they been afraid to claim acts of morbidity?

This dead journalist filed a story by way of this report. It presented two sides of a story, and left you to formulate a conclusion: that there is no justice for those killed by a powerful murderer.

Can our justice system change that reality?

The writer is a sub-editor on the web desk of The Express Tribune and has an LLB degree from the University of London

Source: The Express Tribune, Lahore.