Reporters Without Borders urged Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to accept the demands of journalists’ organisations following the murder of kidnapped reporter Hayatullah Khan who was found shot dead in the tribal zone of North Waziristan on 16 June.
"We support the call for an independent head of the investigative commission and that it should include at least one journalist, to uncover the truth about the abduction and death of Hayatullah Khan,” the organisation said.
“If this murder goes unpunished, the entire profession will be entitled to consider the State as an enemy of investigative reporters”, it added.
Reporters Without Borders pointed out that another Pakistani journalist, Munir Mengal, head of the Baluchi-language TV channel Baloch Voice, was abducted at Karachi international airport on 7 April this year by secret service agents. "The fate of Hayatullah Khan makes us fear for the life of Munir Mengal and we call for his immediate release,” the organisation said.
A delegation of Peshawar journalists met the governor of the North Western Frontier Province, Lt-Gen. Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, on 19 June to ask him to include a journalist in the investigative team into Khan’s murder, which he refused to do.
Prime Minister Aziz announced at a conference of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) in the southern city of Karachi on 18 June that a judicial investigation headed by a high court judge had already been opened and the government would award financial compensation to Khan’s family. He called the news of the journalist’s death "unfortunate and disturbing".
On the same day, more than 800 people took part in a peaceful demonstration in the tribal region of Bajaur shouting slogans including "We want press freedom”, We demand protection for journalists in the tribal zones” and “Arrest Hayatullah’s killers”.
Almost 5,000 people attended Khan’s funeral on 17 June. The journalist leaves a widow and three young children. On the same day, journalists and opposition members staged a walk-out of Parliament in Islamabad in protest against the murder. They rallied in front of the homes of the prime minister and the president shouting “Killer, killer, government killer”.
Interior Minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, said that the authorities “would do their utmost to punish those responsible for this barbaric act”. He also met the journalists and promised them that Khan had not been kidnapped by the Pakistani secret services. He said the security services had done everything to find him alive.
Hayatullah Khan found dead six months after he went missing
Reporters Without Borders said it was sickened by the discovery of the body of journalist Hayatullah Khan in the tribal zone of North Waziristan more than six months after he went missing. He had been shot several times in the head.
Five armed men abducted Khan, a reporter on the Urdu-language daily Ausaf and photographer for the European Press Photo Agency (EPA), in Mir Ali on 5 December 2005.
His abduction came days after he contradicted Pakistani army claims that the death of Hamza Rabia, a leading Arab militant in al-Qaeda, and four others on 1 December was the result of an accidental munitions explosion. On the basis of photographs he took at the scene, Khan said Rabia was killed by a US missile. Villagers said the explosion was caused by a missile fired from a plane or a drone.
"The death of Hayatullah Khan leaves a very bitter taste," the press freedom organisation said. "Even if there is nothing to clearly identify the killers, many people have accused the Pakistani secret services of responsibility for the abduction of this journalist, who came from the tribal areas".
"If the authorities want to avoid the finger of suspicion being pointed at them, they should urgently carry out a rigorous and impartial investigation," it added.
"Sadly the campaign which international organisations organised, with his family and members of the Tribal Union of Journalists (TUJ), did not succeed in our rescuing Hayatullah Khan. This case must prompt us to tirelessly defend journalists in the Pakistani tribal areas who are caught in the middle of the conflict".
Khan’s body was found on 16 June in the mountainous region of Khaisor, four kilometres south of Mir Ali. A Pakistani official based in Mir Ali confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that the body had been identified and returned to his family.
One source told Reporters Without Borders that there were bullet wounds to Khan’s head. "He was handcuffed, looked very weak and wore a long beard, which made it seems as though he had been through a very hard time in captivity."
"As friends and colleagues, we are shocked by his death," said Sailab Mehsud, President of the TUJ. During the six months he was missing, many Pakistani journalists had made it clear they suspected the military secret services of involvement.
Pervez Shaukat, President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, had in February, accused the authorities or harassing those who were campaigning for Khan’s release. One government source told journalists in Peshawar, "The more noise you make, the more you prolong Hayatullah’s captivity."
After the US authorities were accused of holding the journalist, US Consul in Peshawar, Mike Spangler, said on 10 May that the United States had "read the reports on the disappearance of Hayatullah Khan (...), but is not in possession of any information about him."
He was arrested in an arbitrary fashion by US forces in 2002 when he was trying to cover al-Qaeda and Taliban activity in the border region. In 2003, the Pakistani military also harassed him the following year after he wrote about the misuse of army vehicles in Mir Ali.