Pakistan: Authorities fail to answer questions about abducted journalist

New York, January 6, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply alarmed by the failure of the Pakistani authorities to respond to inquiries about the fate of journalist Hayatullah Khan more than a month after he was seized by unidentified gunmen in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Family and colleagues have had no word of Khan since his abduction on December 5. Some colleagues suspect he was detained by the authorities after contradicting a government report on the killing of an al-Qaeda commander.

Requests to the authorities for information about Khan’s whereabouts by relatives, local journalist associations and international groups, including CPJ, have yielded nothing.

“We call on Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf to clarify whether the authorities are holding Hayatullah Khan,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Hayatullah Khan must be found swiftly and returned to his family. The government’s unresponsiveness more than one month after his abduction endangers both Khan and other journalists working in the region.”

Khan reported on a December 1 explosion in the town of Haisori in North Waziristan which Pakistani authorities claim killed Abu Hamza Rabia, a senior Al Qaeda commander. Khan, who worked for the Urdu-language daily Ausaf, contradicted the authorities’ report that Rabia died when munitions exploded inside a house. He quoted local tribesmen as saying the house was hit by a missile fired from an aircraft. U.S. media said the blast was caused by a U.S. Hellfire missile fired from an unmanned Predator aircraft. Khan photographed fragments of the missile for the European Pressphoto Agency.

According to CPJ research, Khan has received numerous threats from security forces, alleged Taliban members, and local tribesman because of his reporting. His case is part of a disturbing pattern of targeted violence and intimidation against journalists working in the semiautonomous tribal areas. The Pakistani army has been battling militants in the area since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban government and forced its supporters across the border.