About six months after it was launched, the commission investigating the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad submitted its report to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Tuesday. In the past, the government has not released results of such investigations into the deaths of journalists, but there might be an exception this time. There are early media leaks of its content: The Express Tribune‘s bylined story is “No culprit named in Saleem Shahzad report,” and Dawn‘s story (“Posted by a reporter,” the byline says) is here. Dawn echoes The Express Tribune‘s headline a bit further down in its posting: “According to sources, the commission has stopped short of fixing responsibility for the journalist`s killing.” But with no names named, the government might find it politically viable to make the report public.
This latest highly touted exercise in justice appears to be a recycle of the near-perfect impunity which surrounds the killing of journalists in Pakistan. As we noted in the June 3 posting “Justice for Saleem Shahzad? We’ve seen this before . . .,” even with high profile investigations, the pattern has been that they have no effect on bringing the killers of journalists to justice, whether or not the country’s military and security establishments are involved, as is widely held in the Shahzad case. A shining example is the 2006 investigation into the death of freelance reporter Hayatullah Khan, who upset the military by coming up with photographic evidence that the United States had conducted a missile strike into Pakistani territory, despite Pakistan’s claims to the contrary. Those attacks are a commonplace event now, but in December 2005, when Khan’s pictures showed the remnants of an American-made Hellfire missile in the aftermath of a strike on a house in North Waziristan, it was a global news event, and one that embarrassed, and angered, the military government of Pervez Musharraf.
The only time there has been an investigation, arrests, a prosecution, and sentencing of anyone accused of killing a journalist in Pakistan was in the case of the 2002 beheading of the American Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. And though that exercise in justice was far from perfect, it shows what the government could be capable of when pressured — as it was by the Journal‘s adamant insistence that the government pursue the case.
In December, we posted a blog, “Six years later: Hayatullah Khan’s family calls for justice,” in response to a request from Khan’s brother Ahsan Ahmad Khan. He asked CPJ to put pressure on the government and the Supreme Court of Pakistan to ensure that the special investigation carried out in September 2006 into the journalist’s death be released. There has been no response from either the government or the court to CPJ’s call, or that of the many Pakistani journalists who took up the case after the Khan family’s appeal.
Prime Minister Gilani might be forgiven if he doesn’t make the seven-month-old murder of a journalist his top priority now. Islamabad is obsessed with his increasingly tense showdown with the military, and coup rumors are flying again — Wednesday’s BBC headline, “Pakistan army warns PM Gilani over criticisms,” is typical of the coverage, which has been going on for months. We’ve seen this before, too.