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Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, talks on his cell phone at a local hotel after his release in Quetta, 28 November 2006. (BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images/BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, talks on his cell phone at a local hotel after his release in Quetta, 28 November 2006. (BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images/BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Globe Editorial

Who will be held to account for Saleem Shahzad's murder? Add to ...

Censorship in a very blunt form is being practised in Pakistan. It includes torture and death. Saleem Shahzad, who reported on links between his country's military and terrorists, is the latest to be brutally censored.

If journalists are going to stand up to this form of censorship, they will need the support of Pakistani government authorities in investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the abduction and death of Mr. Shahzad. And democratic countries, including Canada, should impress on Pakistan the importance of upholding the freedom of the press to report without fear of death.

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The body of Mr. Shahzad, a father of three, was found with 17 wounds, including deep gashes, from a beating that caused his broken ribs to pierce his lungs. This abduction and killing happened within days of his story, published in Asia Times Online, about an al-Qaeda raid on a Karachi naval base; his story asserted that the terrorists were aided by sympathizers within the base. Human Rights Watch alleges that Mr. Shahzad was killed by Pakistan's military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. United States authorities are also pointing a finger at the ISI, according to a report in the New York Times.

In the country that claimed ignorance of the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's presence in a military town for several years, journalists who dare probe the intelligence-terror nexus are paying with their lives. Mr. Shahzad is the 15th journalist to be killed in Pakistan in all probability because of his work since the 2002 murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York. In none of those killings, except Mr. Pearl's, was anyone prosecuted.

The bravery of Mr. Shahzad and some of his colleagues in Pakistan deserves mention. The journalist Umar Cheema says he was kidnapped and beaten for 25 minutes with a leather strap and long wooden rod last fall (no one was ever prosecuted for the crime): "Journalists are shot like stray dogs in Pakistan - easily killed because their assassins sit at the pinnacle of power." It is hard to persevere when the state is complicit in such crimes, he says.

A commission of inquiry into Mr. Shahzad's murder has been set up by the government. This case is a chance to end the culture of impunity, and to confront the extremists in Pakistan's military, and the damage they are inflicting on the country and region.

 

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