Six years later: Hayatullah Khan’s family calls for justice

Six years after the murder of journalist Hayatullah Khan, his brother Ahsan Ahmad Khan has asked CPJ to put pressure on the government and the Supreme Court of Pakistan to ensure that a special investigation carried out in September 2006 into the journalist’s death be released. (A copy of Ahsan Ahmad’s message can be found here, and CPJ’s translation from Urdu is below.)

Unfortunately, we have been down this road before. CPJ has met with officials in the governments of Presidents Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari, but none have followed through on their promises to make the results of the investigation known. CPJ joins with Hayatullah Khan’s family in their renewed call for the release of Justice Mohammed Reza Khan’s September 2006 investigation into his death. After a phone call with Ahsan Ahmad, we sent a letter to President Asif Ali Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik today.

At a time of resurging international interest in warfare along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, the Khan family’s appeal is timely. Pakistan and the U.S. are struggling to rebuild ties after a November 26 airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan that killed 24 Pakistani troops, for which the Americans have yet to apologize. Local reporters like Khan are necessary to the independent reporting that can reveal important details in a story of such international import.

It was on December 4, 2005 that Khan was one of the first Pakistani journalists to capture photographic evidence that the United States had violated Pakistani sovereignty, when he transmitted pictures of the remnants of a U.S.-made Hellfire missile that had struck a home in the town of Miran Shah, killing senior al-Qaeda figure Hamza Rabia.The story, which appeared in the widely read Urdu-language daily Ausaf, and the pictures, distributed by the European Pressphoto Agency, contradicted the Pakistani government’s official explanation that Rabia had died in a blast caused by explosives in the house.

Six years ago, on December 5, 2005, five gunmen in a white, four-door Toyota pickup truck ran Hayatullah Khan’s car off the road, and took him away. His younger brother Haseenullah, who had been driving, was unable to help him. Six months later, on June 16, 2006, a phone call at 4:40 p.m. to the family’s home told them that Khan’s body had been dumped in Miran Shah’s marketplace.

In the months between Khan’s abduction and that phone call, Pakistani journalists and international media support groups waged an all-out campaign to get Khan released, and then pressed for an investigation into his death. The government complied with demands, and in September of 2006, High Court Justice Mohammed Reza Khan led an inquiry and submitted its report, but the results have never been made public. Government investigations into the deaths of journalists are not rare, nor is the government’s decision not to release the findings. In a June 3 blog, Justice for Saleem Shahzad? We’ve seen this before… CPJ highlighted the same problem.

One other point that Ahsan Ahmad made when we spoke with him Tuesday morning: In 2006, public anger over the injustice of Khan’s death moved the government to extend financial aid to his children. Ahsan Ahmad told us that he is looking after his brother’s five children in Peshawar. “They have neither mother nor father now. We have been getting education money, about Rs. 12,000 (about $130) each month, from the Pakistani government from 2006 to 2010, but we haven’t received any money in 2011. Maybe it’s because of the problems in Pakistan, but we have been told that we’ll probably get it again starting this month. I want to say this specifically: The Pakistani government must not let anything get in the way of these children’s education. The children must not face any problems.”

Here is CPJ’s translation of the message we received from Ahsan Ahmad Khan, dated November 22. We have deleted some contact details. His message in Urdu can be found here.

This is an appeal on behalf of the late journalist Hayat Ullah Khan’s brother and children. I am the brother of the deceased Hayat Ullah Khan, Ahsan Ahmad. I write this appeal in Urdu because I lack the skill to do so in English. My late brother Hayat Ullah Khan was kidnapped on December 5, 2005, because he wrote an article and printed a photo about a U.S.-guided missile. International and national journalists protested at his kidnapping. However, his body was found on June 16, 2006, he was found in official handcuffs, and international and national journalists protested against the Pakistani government. In response, the Pakistani government and Supreme Court took suo moto action and ordered an inquiry into the case.

Even after the inquiry was completed, journalists were not informed about the Pakistani Supreme Court/Pakistani government’s results and no one covered it. After that, the house of the late Hayat Ullah Khan was raided and bombed. The result was that the late journalist’s wife, Mehru-Nisa, was killed. She was the chief witness to the case.

I request your organization, I appeal to you, that you put pressure on the government of Pakistan and the Supreme Court and ensure the inquiry’s results are brought to the forefront. If the government does not do this, this case should be brought to the attention of the International Criminal Court so we can get justice.

My dead brother has five children…. All of them since 2009 have been living in Peshawar with me and are studying. I have full faith in your organization and trust that you will help and support us with the case.

Thank you very, very much.

Ahsan Ahmad