On May 31, Asia Times Bureau Chief Sayed Saleem Shahzad was found dead about 150 miles outside of Islamabad. His death occurred after he had written a story linking the Pakistani military with terrorists believed to have orchestrated a recent raid of a naval base. Journalists in the country cried out and are blaming the nation’s secret service for his murder.
This comes as no surprise as Pakistan is currently ranked as the sixth most murderous country for free press in the world according the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2011 Impunity Index. In a post for the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News, ASU Hubert Humphrey Fellow Malik Siraj Akbar recounts his own frustrations with the free press horrors that are taking place in his homeland and the colleagues he has lost as a result.
[CORRECTION 6/09/11: The above word "recounts" has been corrected from "recants."]
“The authorities have not investigated or punished those responsible for these killings,” Siraj said. “Worse still, official pressure on media outlets has led to a complete blackout of the news concerning their deaths.”
In response to the increase in violence targeting journalists, SPJ President Hagit Limor and the International Journalism Committee mailed a letter to Pakistan Ambassador Husain Haggani last Friday, demanding an official investigation into the death of Shahzad. Additional copies of the letter were sent to Ambassador Haggani’s email account and the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
You can read the full letter as posted below.
2 June 2011
To: Hon. Husain Haqqani
Pakistan Ambassador to
The United States
Dear Ambassador Haqqani,
This letter to you and your government is an official statement from The Society of Professional Journalists and its International Journalism Committee on the recent death of journalist Saleem Shahzad, and the growing list of journalists killed in Pakistan for their professional work.
SPJ has been monitoring the plight of journalists in Pakistan and now must strongly protest against the violence that has befallen reporters, allegedly from elements of your country’s military.
Mr. Shahzad’s death so soon after he produced a story that raised questions about the relationship between Pakistani military officers and terrorist groups is alarming and raises our concern about press freedoms in your country.
Last year, eight professional journalists met violent deaths in Pakistan, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making your country the most dangerous place on the planet to be a professional reporter – ahead of Iraq, Mexico and Honduras. In many of the killings in Pakistan, fellow journalists and international human rights organizations have publicly expressed suspicion that the crimes were acts of reprisal by members of your nation’s intelligence service and the military.
The danger that journalists face in Pakistan is a stark reminder that democracy cannot evolve to the benefit of the people without a professional and independent media which is free of selective pressure from government and overt and perceived threats of violence.
The Society of Professional Journalists, the oldest and largest professional organization of its kind in the United States, insists that journalists adhere to a strict code of ethics and a high standard of professional practice. More and more we are sharing our standards of practice with journalists around the world who seek to improve the quality of their work. We counsel our international associates that a journalist’s freedom of expression is a right that must be treated with respect. We insist that the best way to preserve that right is to practice journalism within a framework of high professional and ethical standards. It is, however, impossible to ask for media responsibility in an environment where journalists face government repression and repeated acts of violence.
Therefore, SPJ demands that the Pakistani government immediately launch an official investigation into Mr. Shahzad’s murder and into the violence that has turned so many journalists into victims in your country. Only a transparent and thorough investigation of this murder and of the violence aimed at journalists can lift the significant veil of international concern that hovers over your government’s relationship with the media.
SPJ and its International Journalism Committee are ready to participate and cooperate with your government in such an investigation, and in discussions on the future of press freedoms and responsibilities in Pakistan.
I am also ready to provide more details of our concerns in a conversation.
Thank you for considering our petition.
The Society of Professional Journalists