Friday, June 16, 2006

Pakistani Journalist found dead six months after he went missing

Dear Friends,

It was shocking news for me in Canada. This morning when on the other side of the phone line my friend Shaheen told me that our good friend Hayat Ullah's dead body was found in the tribal areas of Pakistan. I always pray for all reporters, who are working on the frontline in the conflicted zones. At the same time I realize that how lucky we are in Canada, where we can practice our profession without any fear of police encounters. As you know I was reporting in the same country few years back. You cannot imagine how much torture and punishment were given to reporters in that lawless region.
Those butchers handcuffed my friend and kept him without food for many weeks.
His hands were cuffed on his back. Even I am living in Canada for few years but I still feel handcuffs on my hands whenever I hear any news that my friend journalist are being killed or tortured by authorities or Tribe Leaders.

Reporters Without Borders said it was sickened by the discovery of the body of journalist Hayatullah Khan in the tribal zone of North Waziristan more than six months after he went missing. He had been shot several times in the head.
Five armed men abducted Khan, a reporter on the Urdu-language daily Ausaf and photographer for the European Press Photo Agency (EPA), in Mir Ali on 5 December 2005.
His abduction came days after he contradicted Pakistani army claims that the death of Hamza Rabia, a leading Arab militant in al-Qaeda, and four others on 1 December was the result of an accidental munitions explosion. On the basis of photographs he took at the scene, Khan said Rabia was killed by a US missile. Villagers said the explosion was caused by a missile fired from a plane or a drone.
"The death of Hayatullah Khan leaves a very bitter taste," the press freedom organisation said. "Even if there is nothing to clearly identify the killers, many people have accused the Pakistani secret services of responsibility for the abduction of this journalist, who came from the tribal areas".
"If the authorities want to avoid the finger of suspicion being pointed at them, they should urgently carry out a rigorous and impartial investigation," it added.
"Sadly the campaign which international organisations organised, with his family and members of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ), did not succeed in our rescuing Hayatullah Khan. This case must prompt us to tirelessly defend journalists in the Pakistani tribal areas who are caught in the middle of the conflict".
Khan’s body was found on 16 June in the mountainous region of Khaisor, four kilometres south of Mir Ali. A Pakistani official based in Mir Ali confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that the body had been identified and returned to his family.
One source told Reporters Without Borders that there were bullet wounds to Khan’s head. "He was handcuffed, looked very weak and wore a long beard, which made it seems as though he had been through a very hard time in captivity."
"As friends and colleagues, we are shocked by his death," said Sailab Mehsud, President of the TUJ. During the six months he was missing, many Pakistani journalists had made it clear they suspected the military secret services of involvement.
Pervez Shaukat, President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, had in February, accused the authorities or harassing those who were campaigning for Khan’s release. One government source told journalists in Peshawar, "The more noise you make, the more you prolong Hayatullah’s captivity."
After the US authorities were accused of holding the journalist, US Consul in Peshawar, Mike Spangler, said on 10 May that the United States had "read the reports on the disappearance of Hayatullah Khan (...), but is not in possession of any information about him."
He was arrested in an arbitrary fashion by US forces in 2002 when he was trying to cover al-Qaeda and Taliban activity in the border region. In 2003, the Pakistani military also harassed him the following year after he wrote about the misuse of army vehicles in Mir Ali.