PAKISTAN: The AHRC condemns the attack on Hamid Mir and demands the suspension of the ISI chief until the inquiry is completed

A prominent journalist and television anchor person, Mr. Hamid Mir, was attacked by plain clothed assailants on April 19 while on his way from Karachi Airport to his television station, the Geo News. He was attacked twice at the Shahrah-e-Faisal, the busiest road of the city which goes from the airport to the down town area where Governor House and the chief ministers’ offices are located. Mir’s driver took him to the Aga Khan University Hospital, where he underwent emergency treatment. He was shot six times by two motor bike riders and one person standing under a bridge. At the time of the attack the CCTV camera, installed at that particular spot, was not working for reasons unknown. However all others were working at that time.

Mir had traveled from Islamabad to Karachi to cover the arrival of the former president and army chief, Pervez Musharraf, who landed in Karachi four hours after the attack on Mir. Musharraf arrived on a flight chartered from Karachi-based Princely Jets.

It is significant that the attack on Mir occurred during the period of the maximum security arranged for Musharraf’s arrival. This, and the fact that the security camera at the location of the attack was the only one not working speaks of the involvement of the ISI. The formation of the security protocol for such events is the sole responsibility of the ISI.

Musharraf was given a heavy protocol with many armed cars and guards from the Pakistan Rangers and Police. The high protocol arrangements were made at the Karachi airport from 2 pm and every person was searched on the way to the airport. Mr. Mir was attacked at 5 pm and assailants were given safe passage to run away.

Mir’s younger brother, Aamir Mir , his family members and other anchorpersons and journalists accused Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam, the chief of the ISI, the notorious intelligence agency of the military, for involvement in the attack on Hamid Mir. They state that Mir had been receiving threats from the ISI and its chief for some months for extensively covering the issue of missing persons and the military’s involvement in the Balochistan situation, and also for criticizing the role of the military in the high treason case against General Musharraf by providing protection for him when he was hiding in the armed forces hospital.

In November 2012, an explosive device was planted in Mir’s car. It is not known whether this was an attempt to assassinate him or merely intimidate him. A right wing journalist by his writings Mr. Mir, an anchorperson of Geo news channel, accused some ‘state actors’ and some ‘non state actors’ of involvement in planting the bomb under his car.

Mir has also been under threat from the Taliban and other groups from Al-Qaida for some time now and on many occasions receives threatening calls from unknown persons believed to be from the state intelligence agencies. He has forwarded to the federal Minister for the Interior the telephone numbers from which the threats were received but no action or investigations have been conducted in the matter. Please see our earlier statement: PAKISTAN: Intimidation of journalists continues with the attempted assassination of Hamid Mir.

After the failed assassination of the famous journalist, the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the Pakistan Military came out with a statement denying the involvement of the ISI or its chief in the attack. However, as a large number of media houses and journalists were openly accusing the ISI and its chief in the assassination attempt on Mir, the director general (DG) Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asim Bajwa said that they welcome the government’s commission to probe the attack. In the same tone he threatened the media houses that baseless allegations against government institutions will not be taken lightly and that stern action will be taken against the elements who blame the ISI. He said that Hamid Mir was attacked by miscreants who do not want peace to prevail in the country. He also said that pointing fingers at the military organisations is tantamount to defamation.

A report by Human Rights Watch states that the ISI has a long and well-documented history of abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings of critics of the military and others. Those abducted are routinely beaten and threatened, their relatives told not to worry or complain as their release is imminent, and then when released they are threatened with further abuse if the ordeal is made public. Pakistani and international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have extensively documented the ISI’s intimidation, torture, enforced disappearances, and killings, including those of many journalists. There were many complaints against the attacks of from ISI officers and their involvement in killings of the journalists. Please also see: PAKISTAN: Shahzad Commission results marred by free ride for ISI.

In the case of Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, and for Adnkronos International, the Italian news agency, disappeared from central Islamabad on the evening of May 29, 2011. His body, bearing visible signs of torture, was discovered on May 31, near Mandi Bahauddin, 130 kilometers southeast of the capital. The circumstances of the abduction raised concerns that the military’s feared Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency was responsible. In June 2011, the Supreme Court, at the request of the government, instituted a commission of inquiry into the killing. However, the commission’s failure to get to the bottom of the Shahzad killing illustrates the ability of the ISI to remain beyond the reach of Pakistan’s criminal justice system. Mr. Saleem Shahzad had informed many media houses before his assassination that the ISI or secret agencies would kill him. He repeated his fears to the AHRC on many occasions.

There are examples of journalists like Hyatullah, Musa Khel and many from Balochistan who were killed after their disappearances by the powerful intelligence agencies of the army. A prominent journalist, Umer Cheema, was also abducted by the intelligence agency, the ISI, severely tortured and sodomised by army officials. But, as is typical where the military are concerned, no perpetrator has ever been prosecuted nor has any enquiry been concluded. Please refer to: PAKISTAN: Absence of rule of law provides impunity to military officials.

Mr. Umer Cheema, a senior journalist at The News International, a daily newspaper based in Islamabad, was kidnapped, tortured and humiliated for six hours on 4 September, 2010. He was picked up in cloak-and-dagger style in the early hours by men in commando uniforms and driven to a “safe house”. Here unknown persons took over; he was beaten black and blue, humiliated beyond comprehension, he was made to strip off his clothes, hung upside down and remained in the illegal custody for hours. Finally, he was thrown out on the roadside at Talagang, 120 kilometres from Islamabad with a shaved head and a threatening message for Ansar Abbasi, the head of the newspaper’s investigative section. Please see our Urgent Appeal: PAKISTAN: A senior journalist was abducted, tortured and kept incommunicado by the intelligence agencies.

In the murder of Hyatullah Khan, a judicial commission was formed which came out with the opinion that the secret agencies of the military were involved. However, the government has not made the report public and when the widow of Hyatullah Khan began to pursue the case she was also murdered and the ISI was given immunity.

Mr. Umer Cheema wrote in an article after the assassination attempt on Mir that the secret agencies have framed the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for their own convenience but their actions do not have any legal authority. Their officials believe in the notion that the agencies’ work starts where the law fails to deliver. With this thought in mind, they act with full impunity playing havoc with the lives of the citizens without any burden of guilt. But they do not forget to react if their wrongdoing is pointed out and any such aspersion is considered an attack on national security. Pakistan is one of the few democracies in the world with no mechanism of parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies. Even countries which were previously governed by military rule under authoritarian regimes have carried out intelligence reforms.

Umar Cheema was a 2008 Daniel Pearl Fellow. In 2004 during General Musharraf’s government, he was deliberately hit by a moving car while doing a story on the international inspection of Pakistan’s nuclear power installations.

Fifteen days before the recent attack on Hamid Mir he sent a recorded statement to the government authorities, his friends and his organisation, GEO TV. In the statement he said that he firmly believed that he would be attacked or eliminated in the coming days. He accused the chief of the ISI, Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam, for responsibility of any such attack. In a recent visit to Dubai he also shared his apprehension with four other anchor persons. This was revealed by his friends.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan has announced a three-member judicial commission to probe the attempted murder and asked the Supreme Court to nominate three judges. The PM knows himself that in the past, such commissions were formed and the judiciary failed to implement its own investigation because of the presence of the power intelligence agency. It is well known by all that any such commission is unlikely to produce any results. If by some chance results are found it is also well known that the government cannot go against the wishes of the ISI. It is also a fact that the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to power due to the invisible and unholy alliance between the ISI, the Taliban and ruling party, PML-N.

The AHRC urges the government to conduct a transparent inquiry by the proposed judicial commission, the ISI chief, Lieutenant General Zaheer-ul-Islam, must be suspended from duty during the course of the investigation and a criminal case of alleged attempted murder must be brought against him. The AHRC also believes that an institution such as the ISI which conducts itself like a wild elephant must be disbanded as it is a burden on the state to which it brings only severe embarrassment.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-069-2014
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Administration of justice, Freedom of expression, Threats and intimidation,