Khan’s body was found by villagers in the North Waziristan town of Miran Shah, where he had been kidnapped six months earlier. Khan was abducted on December 5, 2005, by five gunmen who ran his car off the road ashis younger brother, Haseenullah, watched helplessly. Local government officials and family members said Khan, 32, had been found handcuffed and shot several times. His body appeared frail and he had grown a long beard since hewas last seen, Pakistani journalists told CPJ.
The day before his abduction, Khan photographed whatapparently were the remnants of a U.S.-made missile said to have struck a housein Miran Shah on December 1, 2005, killing senior Al-Qaeda figure Hamza Rabia.The pictures, widely distributed by the European Pressphoto Agency on the daythey were shot, contradicted the Pakistani government’s explanation that Rabiahad died in a blast caused by explosives within the house. International news mediaidentified the fragments in the photographs as part of a Hellfire missile, possibly fired from a U.S. drone.
Khan, who was also a reporter for the Urdu-language daily Ausaf, had received numerous threats from Pakistani security forces, Taliban members, and local tribesmen because of his reporting.
During Khan’s six-month disappearance, government officialsprovided his family with numerous and often contradictory accounts of hiswhereabouts: Khan was in government custody, soon to be released; Khan had beenabducted by "miscreants"; he had been taken by Waziristan mujahideen;he had been flown to the military base at Rawalpindi and was then detained inKohat air base.
Khan’s relatives were told by hospital workers that he hadfive or six bullet wounds and that one hand had been manacled in hand cuffs typically used by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, dismissed the reported presence of the handcuffs as circumstantial and said the cuffs could have been planted to incriminate the government. No autopsy was performed.
An investigation led by High Court Justice Mohammed RezaKhan was conducted, but the results were not made public. Hayatullah Khan’sfamily said they were not interviewed by the judge or other investigators.North West Frontier Gov. Ali Mohammad Jan Orakzai told CPJ that NorthWaziristan was not secure enough to risk exposing a judicial figure tokidnapping or death. CPJ has repeatedly sought the release of the report,making a direct request to President Asif Ali Zardari in 2011. The reportremained a secret as of February 2013.
In November 2007, Khan’s widow was killed in a bomb that was detonated outside her home.
On November 19, 2022, Pakistan army officials detained the journalist’s brother, Zameer Khan, in the town of Mir Ali, in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Ahsan Ahmad Khan, Zameer and Hayatullah Khan’s brother, told CPJ he believes authorities detained Zameer in retaliation for the family’s continued search for justice in Hayatullah’s case.
On September 1, 2022, Ahsan Ahmad had filed a letter to the Interior Ministry, which CPJ reviewed, requesting the publication of a 2006 report on his brother’s killing. That report, created by a judicial commission at the direction of the Supreme Court to probe the circumstances surrounding Hayatullah Khan’s death, has never been released publicly, according to Ahsan Ahmad and the Pakistan Press Foundation.
In a November 11 response, Pakistan’s Ministry of Interior referred him to the Supreme Court about the request, according to a copy of that letter posted on Twitter by television talk show host Hamid Mir.