Saleem Shahzad Commission

On May 31, Pakistan’s journalist community was shocked when Syed Saleem Shahzad’s body bearing torture marks was found two days after he had gone missing from Islamabad. Mr Shahzad had been voicing his concern about threats to his life from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Journalists from all over the world condemned this act of brutality. Fingers were directly pointed at the ISI for his abduction and murder. The ISI denied these charges. A judicial commission was set up at the insistence of Pakistani journalists after some dilly-dallying by the government. Supreme Court (SC) judge Justice Saqib Nisar, who is heading the Saleem Shahzad Commission, met senior journalists on Saturday (July 9) to share information regarding the murder of the slain journalist with members of the commission. They have been asked to submit their written statements by Friday. Justice Saqib Nisar also voiced his concerns over lack of cooperation from people who have not responded to the public appeal made by the commission.

Military dictators have ruled Pakistan for more than 30 years of its existence. Even when there is no direct military rule, our foreign and security policies are devised by the military establishment. Because of this, the military expanded its control over the media and developed a relationship with many media personalities. We find many mouthpieces of the military establishment amidst our journalist community. Those who do not cater to the military’s views are coerced, harassed, threatened and sometimes killed. Thus blaming the ISI for Shahzad’s murder has become quite a sensitive issue. There are not many people within the journalist community or the public who are willing to come forward and risk their lives. We have seen how the military has reacted to the recent humiliation it suffered after the Abbottabad raid, Kharotabad incident, PNS Mehran attack and Saleem Shahzad’s murder. Some journalists have received veiled while others have received not-so-veiled threats from the intelligence agencies following the media’s criticism of the armed forces in light of recent events. It is for this reason that the Saleem Shahzad Commission should make sure that whosoever comes forward with evidence against the ISI, he/she should be provided with adequate security. However, the case of the missing persons does not inspire much confidence in the judiciary as it backed out from making our intelligence agencies accountable. It is hoped that this time the judiciary will not hesitate in doing its work.

Suggestions were made by some journalists at Saturday’s hearing that a media ombudsman be set up in order to hear journalists’ complaints. This is a good idea since it would be able to provide redress and relief to many journalists. Publishers and editors have failed to get the Press Council going, which only exists on paper but does not do much. Perhaps a member of the judiciary can be appointed to ensure the safety of journalists. It was also suggested that the commission should be open to public since this was not a military tribunal. This should be done so that the public knows what is going on. Journalists also called for the commission to summon spy agencies since the ISI is being accused of committing this crime. It is hoped that the Saleem Shahzad Commission will take all these suggestions seriously and make its findings public. No one, especially state institutions, should be above the law.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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