According to the New York Times, US officials have concluded, based on classified intelligence, that "senior officials of [Pakistan's] spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence," directed the killing of Asia Times Online investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad, who disappeared in Islamabad on May 29th, "in an effort to silence criticism" of the agency:
The intelligence, which several administration officials said they believed was reliable and conclusive, showed that the actions of the ISI, as it is known, were “barbaric and unacceptable,” one of the officials said. They would not disclose further details about the intelligence.
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The disclosure of the intelligence was made in answer to questions about the possibility of its existence, and was reluctantly confirmed by the two officials. “There is a lot of high-level concern about the murder; no one is too busy not to look at this,” said one.
A third senior American official said there was enough other intelligence and indicators immediately after Mr. Shahzad’s death for the Americans to conclude that the ISI had ordered him killed.
“Every indication is that this was a deliberate, targeted killing that was most likely meant to send shock waves through Pakistan’s journalist community and civil society,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the information. [link]
[HT: Azmat Khan and Declan Walsh.] More from the Times's Eric Schmitt, appearing this morning on The Takeaway (audio player embedded to the right). As the Times reports, the ISI has threatened other journalists in the wake of Shahzad's killing:
The anger over Mr. Shahzad’s death followed unprecedented questioning in the media about the professionalism of the army and the ISI, a military-controlled spy agency, in the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid.
Since that initial volley of questioning, the ISI has mounted a steady counter-campaign. Senior ISI officials have called and visited journalists, warning them to douse their criticisms and rally around the theme of a united country, according to three journalists who declined to be named for fear of reprisals.
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The efforts by the ISI to constrain the Pakistani news media have, to a degree, worked in recent days. The virulent criticism after Mr. Shahzad’s death has tempered a bit.
A Pakistani reporter, Waqar Kiani, who works for the British newspaper The Guardian, was beaten in the capital after Mr. Shahzad’s death with wooden batons and a rubber whip, by men who said: “You want to be a hero. We’ll make you a hero,” the newspaper reported. Mr. Kiani had just published an account of his abduction two years earlier at the hands of intelligence agents. [link]
This "counter-campaign" now may also have a legal component, in the form of a petition recently filed in the Supreme Court by a former government official seeking to ban certain journalists and media organizations from criticizing military and intelligence agencies:
The petitioner, Sardar Muhammad Ghazi, a former deputy attorney general for Pakistan, filed the petition under Article 184 (3) making the federation through Ministry of Information secretary, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Geo TV anchors Najam Sethi and Hamid Mir, and Ijaz Haider, who wrote an open letter to ISI chief Lt General Shuja Pasha in the Express Tribune, as respondents.
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"The pen pushers and anchor persons are spitting venom against the ISI and the armed forces," he said.
Ghazi contended that after the May 2 Abbottabad operation, which resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces, and the attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi, a well-organised campaign was launched in the world media targeting army and ISI
"The anchorpersons and the writer jointly and severally are trying to run down the army generals and as such their command stands eroded in the eyes of the force being commanded by them," he stated. [link]
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 39 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, with eight journalists killed in 2010 -- making Pakistan the year's deadliest country in the world for journalists -- and at least five journalists killed so far in 2011. Overall, Pakistan ranks 10th on the CPJ's Impunity Index, which is based on unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of the country’s population.
- Pakistani Journalists Honored in US Ceremony (The News International, July 4, 2011)
- A Journalist in Pakistan: Living on the Edge (Sabin Agha, Express Tribune, July 3, 2011)
- Silent No More: Pakistani Journalist Speaks Out (Jonathan Ernst, St. Louis Beacon, July 2, 2011)
- A Legal Attack Accompanies Assault on Pakistani Journalists (Bob Dietz, Committee to Protect Journalists, June 24, 2011)
- Journalist's Killing Unites Pakistan's Media (Julie McCarthy, NPR, June 21, 2011)
- Dying to Tell the Story (Umar Cheema, New York Times, June 11, 2011)
- RIP Saleem Shahzad (Kalsoom Lakhani, Changing Up Pakistan, June 1, 2011)
- The Perils of Covering Pakistan's Military (Huma Imtiaz, Foreign Policy AfPak Channel, May 31, 2011)