Khan was seized by unidentified gunmen in the lawless North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan on December 5. Some of Khan’s journalist colleagues believe he was taken by the authorities after contradicting the government version of a report on the killing of an al-Qaeda commander.
“We call on President Pervez Musharraf to clarify Hayatullah Khan’s status. The government has not been forthcoming about his case. Indeed, it has issued conflicting statements, adding to the agony of his family and friends,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “If Khan is being held by the government or groups connected to the government, President Musharraf must say so. If he is not, the president should press for a full investigation into his fate,” Cooper said.
Inquiries to authorities by Khan’s relatives, local journalist associations, CPJ, and other international groups have met with silence or misleading information from officials.
Khan, who worked for the Urdu-language daily Ausaf and the European Pressphoto Agency, has received numerous threats from Pakistani security forces, Taliban members, and local tribesmen because of his reporting, CPJ research shows.
One of Khan’s journalist colleagues told CPJ that Khan had told his mother that the Pakistani government was threatening him. He had been told to leave journalism or the region, or accept a government job there. In Pakistan, journalists’ cooperation is sometimes “bought” by offering them government positions rather than have them continue to report news critical of the authorities.
Other colleagues in contact with CPJ have speculated that Khan is being held by either Taliban militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, tribal groups, or Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Others accuse the government of spreading disinformation that he is in hiding with either U.S. military forces in neighboring Afghanistan or the Taliban operating in the border area.
Khan was abducted after he had reported on an explosion in the town of Haisori in North Waziristan on December 1. His story contradicted official accounts claiming that a senior al-Qaeda commander, Abu Hamza Rabia, died after munitions exploded inside a house. Khan quoted local tribesmen as saying the house was hit by an air-launched missile. He photographed fragments of the missile for the European Pressphoto Agency. International media identified it as a Hellfire missile fired from a U.S. drone.
Khan’s case is not unique. Security conditions for journalists working in Pakistan’s tribal regions have deteriorated since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 ousted the Taliban government and forced its supporters across the border. Few journalists remain in Waziristan after attacks and threats from security forces and militants forced many to flee.
Khan joins 23 other journalists on CPJ’s missing list dating back to 1982. To read the list go to Journalists Missing.