PAKISTAN: President of newspapers’ society confirms that Saleem Shahzad was receiving threats from ISI 

Mr. Hameed Haroon, the chief executive officer of the Dawn, a leading daily newspaper of Pakistan and the president of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society, an organization of owners of the print media, has confirmed that the slain journalist, Mr. Saleem Shahzad, had received threatening messages from Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency, the ISI on at least three occasions. Shahzad had not only informed his employer, the Asia Time Online but also Mr. Haroon and other friends of these threats.

This statement from Mr. Haroon refuted the charges of the ISI official that the accusation of the involvement of the ISI in Shahzad’s murder was baseless. Shahzad told Mr. Haroon in an email after a meeting on October 18, 2010, in which military and navy officers were present, that he was being pressurised to disclose his source of information about the release of a notorious Taliban commander from Pakistani custody.

The confirmation from a media house owner that Shahzad was under threat from the ISI is enough to expose the workings of the invisible intelligence agencies for the intimidation and murder of citizens in general and journalists in particular. The statement from the ISI was merely an attempt to cover up its common practice of threatening anyone it sees as a potential risk. It is no secret that every investigative journalist is expected to disclose the source of their information to the military run intelligence services.

Open and fair trials and the rule of law are now subjected to the requirements of what is perceived to be national security. The government is in a deep state of denial when it comes to confronting the armed forces or the intelligence agencies for acts of forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and torture in custody.

The concept of an open trial in Pakistan no longer exists if there is any hint that the subject of the trial may involve ‘national security’. There is simply no chance of a trial taking place or, if by some chance it does actually begin, evidence is suppressed in the interests of this national security. The statement by the ISI official that the organisation had nothing to do with Shahzad’s murder was not given with the intention of creating discussion, it was, as far as the ISI is concerned, a statement of fact and as such is without contestation.

The rule of law in Pakistan is very much at the mercy of the armed forces. It is, as in the case of open and fair trials, exactly what they say it is. The Asian Human Rights Commission pointed out in a statement issued yesterday (June 1, 2011 PAKISTAN: Invisible agencies take the life of another well known journalist Saleem Shahzad) that,

By merely ordering a puppet inquiry into the matter the government will not serve the purpose of justice and truth which the Pakistani nation desperately needs at this moment when all the venues of justice, accountability, fair trial and transparency are nowhere to be seen.

The statement of the ISI will dominate the inquiry into Shahzad’s murder simply because the government has no will power to question it.

We reproduce below and in full, the statement issued today by the President of the All Pakistan Newspaper Society:

A leading newspaper publisher in Pakistan and the president of the nationwide newspapers body has reacted sharply to charges by the Inter Services ‘Intelligence Agency (ISI) that allegations by Human Rights Watch of the intelligence agency’s involvement in the murder of Pakistani journalist Salim Shahzad were “baseless” .

It has come to my notice that a spokesman of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) while speaking to the official national news agency in Islamabad yesterday has questioned the “baseless allegations” leveled by Human Rights Watch on the basis of an E mail from Salim Shahzad, the Bureau Chief of the Hong Kong based Asia Times Online, in their possession . Mr Shahzad was murdered three days ago near Islamabad after being abducted by unknown persons.

“I wish to state on record that the e mail in the possession of Mr Ali Dayan, the monitor for Human Rights Watch (HRW) stationed in ,Lahore Pakistan, is indeed one of the three identical E mails sent by Mr Shahzad to HRW , his employers (Asia Times Online) and to his former employer, myself . I also wish to verify that allegations levied by HRW at the Inter services Intelligence (ISI) are essentially in complete consonance with the contents of the slain journalists E mail ”

“In their denial issued Wednesday an anonymous spokesman from the ISI has questioned the “baseless allegation” leveled against ISI by Mr Dayan of HRW. I wish to state on the record for the information of the officers involved in investigating journalist Salim Shahzad’s gruesome murder, that the late journalist confided to me and several others that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years. Whatever the substance of these allegations , they form an integral part of Mr Shahzad’s last testimony. Mr 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 fulfillment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat. The last threat which I refer to was recorded by Mr Shahzad by e mail with me, tersely phrased as “for the record”, at precisely 4.11 am on October18,2010, wherein he recounted the details of his meetings at the ISI headquarters in Islamabad between the Director General- Media Wing (ISI) Rear- Admiral Adnan Nazir, with the Deputy Director General of the Media Wing, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, also being present on the occasion.

The ostensible agenda for this meeting was the subject of Mr Shahzads’s story of Asia Times Online with respect to the Pakistan government freeing of senior Afghan Taliban commander, Mullah Baraadar. Mr Shahzad informed the senior officials that he story was leaked by a intelligence channel in Pakistan, and confirmed thereafter by the ” most credible Taliban s source” . The senior officials present suggested to Mr Shahzad that he officially deny the story, which he refused to do, terming the official’s demand as “impractical”

The senior intelligence official was “curious” to identify the source of Mr Shahzad’s story claiming it to be a “shame” that such a leak should occur from the offices of a high profile intelligence service. Mr Shahzad additionally stated that the Rear -Adimral offered him some information, ostensibly “as a favour ” in the following words : ” We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, diaries and other materials during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name on the list I will certainly let you know.”

Mr Shahzad subsequently confirmed to me in a conversation that he not only interpreted this conversation as a veiled threat to his person. He also informed me that he let an official from the ISI know soon thereafter that he intended share the content of this threat with his colleagues ..

As President of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) and as head of Pakistan’s leading media group I consider the the security of journalists to be of paramount importance. At present the APNS has officially committed itself to the creation of a national body for the investigations of serious threats to the lives of journalists, a body which the Committee to Protect the Journalists in New York, and other leading organizations in the Pakistani press and human rights bodies have promised to lend vigorous support to. Pakistan has one of the high rates in the world for journalists killings and such an environment is inimical to the functioning of democracy. The government and the intelligence agencies should take the investigation into Mr Shahzad’s murder seriously and examine his last testimony closely.

Whether the Oct 18th incident itself or his last article in the Asia Times Online, that alleged Al-Qaeda penetration of the security curtain for Pakistani Naval establishment in Karachi hastened his murder is for the official investigation to uncover. And nobody not even the ISI should be above the law”.

Hameed Haroon