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Onus is on ISI , says media

Anita Joshua

ISLAMABAD: The media fraternity in Pakistan maintained pressure on the government on Thursday to investigate the murder of their colleague, Syed Saleem Shahzad, arguing that the onus of proving innocence was on the intelligence agencies widely held responsible for his disappearance and death.

Reacting sharply to an ISI claim that these allegations were baseless, Hameed Haroon, publisher of Pakistan's leading English daily The Dawn, said Shahzad had sent identical emails to three people on October 18, 2010, fearing for his life after a meeting with ISI officials about a report he had filed. Human Rights Watch representative in Pakistan Ali Dayan Hasan was the first to disclose the existence of such an email a day after Shahzad went missing.

According to Mr. Haroon, who is president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, Shahzad had sent him and also his employer, Asia Times Online, the email. In a statement, the publisher sought to place on record that Shahzad had confided to several journalists that he had received death threats from various ISI officers on at least three occasions in the past five years. “Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Mr. Shahzad's last testimony. Mr. Shahzad's purpose in transmitting this information to three concerned colleagues in the media was not to defame the ISI but to avert a possible fulfillment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat.”

Pointing out that Pakistan has one of the highest rates for journalists killings and that such an environment is inimical to the functioning of democracy, Mr. Haroon said: “Whether the October 18 incident itself or his last article in the Asia Times Online, that alleged al-Qaeda penetration of the security curtain for Pakistani naval establishment in Karachi, hastened his murder is for the official investigation to uncover. And nobody not even the ISI should be above the law.”

While the Foreign Office joined the media in condemning the murder, the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Pakistan said intelligence agencies would have to come up with credible evidence to prove their hands were not stained with his blood.

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