Pakistani journalists defiant at reporter's burial

June 1, 2011 - 8:58 AM
Pakistan Journalist Slain

Family members of slain Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad react over his death in Karachi, Pakistan, Wednesday, June 1, 2011. Hundreds are mourning a Pakistani journalist slain this week after he reported being threatened by intelligence agents. Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote about terrorism and security for the Asia Times Online and other publications. Police said the 40-year-old's body bore signs of torture when it was found Tuesday after he had been missing for two days. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — A Pakistani reporter who investigated terrorism and was found slain after telling a rights activist he'd been threatened by intelligence agents was buried Wednesday. Fellow journalists vowed his killing would not silence them.

Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote for the Asia Times Online and other publications. He delved into topics that were often sensitive in Pakistan, where journalists face threats from insurgents as well as a security establishment that operates largely outside the law.

"We will not shut our voices down," said Azhar Abbas, a prominent Pakistani journalist. "The journalist community is united on this. We will not stop "

Pakistan was the deadliest country for journalists in 2010, with at least eight killed in the line of duty, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Six died in suicide attacks, the group said in a report late last year.

Despite the dangers, the media establishment in Pakistan has expanded rapidly over the past decade, and reporters here operate with tremendous freedom compared with many other developing countries.

In recent weeks, the media have carried unusually scathing coverage about the security establishment after it was caught unawares by the May 2 U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison city in Pakistan's northwest.

Shahzad's death could heighten the criticism, though commentators are being careful about how they discuss the alleged link to spy agencies.

After disappearing Sunday from Islamabad, Shahzad's body was found dozens of miles outside the capital on Tuesday, bearing signs of torture, police said. His death drew numerous condemnations, including from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The 40-year-old was buried in his hometown, Karachi, as hundreds of friends, relatives, political figures and fellow journalists mourned.

Sindh province Information Minister Sharjeel Memon called the killing a "cowardly act" and promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. But it's unclear how much the weak civilian government can do if, as some suspect, Pakistani security agencies played a role.

A spokesman for Pakistan's premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, called the allegations "absurd." He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media on the record.

However, Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he feared Pakistani intelligence agents were after him.

The agencies pressured him to reveal his sources in October after he wrote a story about Pakistan allegedly freeing a detained Afghan Taliban commander, according to an email Shahzad sent Hasan. Hasan said Shahzad was still worried in recent weeks, but kept up his reporting.

Just last week, Shahzad wrote a story about alleged al-Qaida infiltration of the navy. The report came after a 17-hour insurgent siege of a naval base in Pakistan's south added to the recent humiliations suffered by security agencies.

Within days, Shahzad vanished, and his wife contacted Hasan as her husband had instructed in case he disappeared.

In a statement, Clinton said Shahzad's reporting "brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan's stability," and said the U.S. supports the "Pakistani government's investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death."