Murder meant to muzzle media: HRCP

Lahore, June 1: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed grief and indignation at the brutal murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, calling it a vile attempt to muzzle the media and demanding that the government make sure that the murderers are apprehended and prosecuted. The journalist had gone missing in Islamabad on Sunday and his body, showing over a dozen marks of torture, was found on Tuesday.

A statement by HRCP said: “HRCP is grieved by the callous murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad and alarmed at this depraved attempt to silence the media. The identity of the perpetrators may only be established through a transparent probe, but the timing and manner of his abduction make it abundantly clear that Shahzad was targeted because of his work as a journalist. The quick disposal of his body and burial strengthens doubts of the involvement of state actors. The messages that his killers have tried to drive home are as chilling as they are unmistakable. First, that they can go to any length to target anyone who dares speak up, and second, that they have little fear of being caught or punished. The fear and the consequent self-censorship and the impunity the killing induces for the journalists and those who seek to silence them, respectively, are not hard to imagine in the circumstances. Pakistan has long been an acutely unsafe environment for journalists, with the highest number of journalists killed in any country in 2010. Almost all of these cases remain unprosecuted and unpunished. The risks for the journalists are extenuated when they fear harm from agents of the state itself, as has been alleged in Shahzad’s case. For the state to retain its state of denial in the face of such stark threats and violence against journalists is a scandal of the highest order and amounts to complicity. The government’s action in the next few days would determine how serious it is in its claims of doing everything to ensure freedom of the media. Impunity for Shahzad’s murderers is a virtual death warrant for any journalist who crosses anyone. HRCP demands a professional and scientific investigation to apprehend the killers. If it must, the government should seek help from other countries in this regard. A solemn attempt to nab the killers would send out a clear message, as would the failure to do that. The government must also give compensation to the bereaved family and consult media organisations with a view to allay journalists’ apprehensions about their safety and security.”

Zohra Yusuf

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