Full text: Statement by Human Rights Watch before Syed Saleem Shahzad Inquiry Commission

After our earlier post, here is the full text for PTH readers. Yes, it is a PTHleak…

Statement by Ali Dayan Hasan, Human Rights Watch,

To Syed Saleem Shahzad Inquiry Commission

9 August 2011

 

  1. I.               Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights in more than 80 countries around the world. Human Rights Watch researchers conduct fact-finding investigations into violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and then publishes those findings in dozens of reports and hundreds of news releases every year, generating extensive coverage in local and international media. This publicity helps to inform the public and hold abusive governments accountable to their international legal obligations. Human Rights Watch meets with government officials to urge changes in policy and practice in countries, at the United Nations, and in foreign capitals around the world. Human Rights Watch presses for steps to improve human rights, including, where abuses are particularly egregious, by calling for the conditioning or withdrawal of military and financial aid, and the imposition of targeted sanctions on governments. During armed conflicts, Human Rights Watch reports on violations of the laws of war while fighting is underway.

Human Rights Watch is based in New York, with offices in Washington, Brussels, London, Moscow, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Geneva, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Beruit and Johannesburg, among others. On the Internet, Human Rights Watch is located at www.hrw.org.

I am the Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch and have worked for the organization since 2003. I am located in Lahore and divide my time between Pakistan and my other duties which I conduct in the Human Rights Watch offices in the UK and New York. I am responsible for researching, reviewing, and writing reports, briefing papers, and news releases produced by Human Rights Watch on Pakistan. I advocate South Asian human rights concerns globally with international and regional bodies, national governments, and international financial institutions. I am a regular contributor on Pakistan to the international and domestic media.

On behalf of Human Rights Watch and in the above capacity, I have overseen all reports relating to Pakistan since May 2003 as well as the annual Human Rights Watch World Report chapter on Pakistan.

All the views I express are in my professional capacity as the Pakistan Director for Human Rights Watch.

  1. II.             ISI and other intelligence agency abuses

Since 2008 Pakistan has had a civilian government and a newly independent judiciary. However, the military and its intelligence agencies continue to exercise disproportionate influence and de facto power in many spheres of governance. Further, the military and its intelligence agencies continue to perpetrate human rights abuses with impunity. Human Rights Watch knows of no cases in which a senior military officer has been convicted of a human rights abuse and sentenced to prison.

The intelligence agencies, particularly, the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), are regarded as a state within a state by independent analysts, some government officials, and even some serving and retired military officials.

Torture is routinely used in Pakistan, both to obtain confessions in criminal cases and against political and ideological opponents. Torture by the military usually takes place after the victim has been arrested or abducted; the purpose is to frighten the victim into compliance. The victim is often let go on the understanding that if he fails to act as the military demands, another abduction and mistreatment will follow. In this manner, the victim can be kept in a state of fear for years.

Most acts of torture are usually issue-specific and aimed at producing a confession during the course of a criminal investigation. However, torture by military agencies often serve the purpose of “punishment”. Most often the threat of torture is enough to ensure compliance with the demands of the intelligence agencies. The impunity with which the Pakistan army and intelligence agencies operate is well-known in Pakistan. Consequently even a phone call from an intelligence operative can achieve the required result of the intelligence services.

Human Rights Watch has documented the widespread practice of torture employed by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. I have documented cases where the victim has been tortured and otherwise ill-treated, including by being beaten while hung upside down and through sleep deprivation. Further, intelligence agencies in Pakistan abuse their opponents with impunity regardless of public profile or standing.

The case of Rana Sanaullah, law minister in the Punjab provincial government since 2008, and an opposition politician under Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s military rule, is illustrative of the methods employed by the ISI in particular. Sanaullah was arrested under the sedition law for criticizing the military government in November 1999. According to Sanaullah, he was whipped, beaten, held incommunicado, and interrogated for a week in police custody before eventually being released on bail. In October 2002, Sanaullah was re-elected to the Punjab Assembly and elected deputy leader of the opposition. On March 8, 2003, heavily armed men, some of whom wore police uniforms, abducted him.

Sanaullah described to me his mistreatment:

I was handcuffed and, with my face covered with a cloth, I was driven to the ISI office where I was tortured for three or four hours. They were using some sharp-edged weapon with which they would cut open my skin and then rub some sort of chemical in the wound. I felt as if I was on fire every time they did that. I have 22 such injuries on my body. Later, I was pushed into a car and thrown on a service lane along the motorway some 20 kilometres from Faisalabad.

While torture at the hands of police and military agencies has long been widespread, after 11 September 2001 there has been an increase in the frequency of such practises. The conduct of the “war on terror” in Pakistan has led to serious violations of human rights. I have researched and documented many of these cases, some of which have been made public.

Since 2001, journalists, particularly those reporting on counter-terrorism issues, have also come under increasing threat, particularly when investigating connections between militant groups and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies. Journalists have found themselves in grave danger both at the hands of the Taliban and affiliated militant groups and the ISI.

In 2010, journalists known to be critical of the military continued to be harassed, threatened, and mistreated by military-controlled intelligence agencies. On 12 April, shots were fired at the house of journalist Kamran Shafi, a vocal critic of the armed forces and their influence over the state. In September investigative journalist Umar Cheema, who had reported critically on civilian and military authorities in 2010, was abducted, tortured, and then dumped 120 kilometers from his residence in Islamabad. Cheema blamed the ISI for the attack. President Asif Ali Zardari pledged the government would investigate. Despite the formation of an inquiry commission, to date nobody has been held accountable for the abuse.

Human Rights Watch research shows that the ISI and other intelligence agencies have abducted people from their homes in the middle of the night. Many victims have reported being tortured in secret prisons to extract confessions, while the intelligence agencies ignore court orders to produce their detainees in court.

Our research also shows the involvement of the ISI and intelligence agencies in enforced disappearances, illegal and arbitrary arrests, and torture of individuals in government custody.

Human Rights Watch also documents abuses by non-state armed groups, such as the Taliban or Baloch nationalists. In December 2010 we released the report  “‘Their Future is at Stake’: Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province,” which  documents the killings by suspected militants between January 2008 and October 2010. In 2010 the Taliban and other armed groups threatened media outlets over their coverage, a practice documented by Human Rights Watch. A number of journalists were killed in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. On 19 April, reporter Azmat Ali Bangash was killed in a suicide bombing in Orakzai tribal agency while reporting on food delivery at a displaced persons camp. On 28 July, grenade attacks on the homes of journalist Zafarullah Buneri and Imran Khan injured at least six women and children. Journalists Mujeebur Rehman Siddique and Mirsi Khan were both shot dead in September. In 2010, at least 8 journalists were killed in Pakistan, the highest number killed in any country last year.

“Evidence of abuses by security forces and intelligence agencies, including detailed, specific allegations of ISI involvement or complicity in many cases, can be found… in the following Human Rights Watch published material.

 

  1. The 132-page report, ‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years’: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan,” documents dozens of enforced disappearances,in which the authorities take people into custody and then deny all responsibility or knowledge of their fate or whereabouts. The report details 45 alleged cases of enforced disappearances, the majority in 2009 and 2010. While hundreds of people have been forcibly disappeared in Balochistan since 2005, dozens of new enforced disappearances have occurred since Pakistan returned to civilian rule in 2008. The report can be accessed athttp://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/07/28/we-can-torture-kill-or-keep-you-years
  2. Cruel Britannia: British Complicity in the Torture and Ill-treatment of Terror Suspects in Pakistan: This 46-page report provides accounts from victims and their families in the cases of five UK citizens of Pakistani origin—Salahuddin Amin, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Rangzieb Ahmed, Rashid Rauf, and a fifth individual who wishes to remain anonymous—tortured in Pakistan by Pakistani security agencies between 2004 and 2007. Human Rights Watch found that while there is no evidence of UK officials directly participating in torture, UK complicity is clear. This report is available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2009/11/24/cruel-britannia-0
  3. Destroying Legality: Pakistan’s Crackdown on Lawyers and Judges:  This 84-page report presents eyewitness accounts of police violence, arbitrary arrests, and mistreatment of detained lawyers across Pakistan since November 3, 2007. The report details police beatings of lawyers peacefully protesting government policies from within the grounds of Pakistan’s high courts. It is the most detailed account to date of the November crackdown, showing how Musharraf used the emergency as an excuse to disempower the judiciary, the legal profession and civil society in the name of fighting terrorism and Islamic extremists. The report is available at http://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/12/18/destroying-legality
  4. “With Friends Like These…”: Human Rights Violations in Azad Kashmir: This 71-page report, follows a major report on abuses in Indian-administred Kashmir, and is based on research in Azad Kashmir which uncovers abuses by the Pakistani military, intelligence services, and militant organizations. The report is available at

http://www.hrw.org/reports/2006/09/20/friends-these

  1. III.           Syed Saleem Shahzad

Syed Saleem Shahzad was a reporter for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online and for Adnkronos International, the Italian news agency,  My dealings with Shahzad were entirely professional. I had only a passing acquaintance with him. Shahzad went missing from central Islamabad on the evening of 29 May 2011, on his way to the studios of Pakistan’s Dunya News. An expert on Islamist militancy, he had just published a book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11.  He had been invited to discuss his reporting on a May 22 attack in which 10 people were killed on PNS Mehran naval-base in Karachi, allegedly by militants linked to al-Qaeda. Shahzad’s body, bearing visible signs of torture, was discovered two days later, on 31 May, near Mandi Bahauddin.

Shahzad had previously complained of threats by ISI agents for his reporting on links between the ISI and al-Qaeda. On 19 October 2010, Shahzad sent an email to Human Rights Watch outlining a recent meeting he had had with the ISI and asking for the email to be released if he or his family were harmed. Shahzad asked Human Rights Watch to make details of the meeting public “in case something happens to me or my family in future.” (The email is attached as an appendix below).

Shahzad told Human Rights Watch that he had been threatened by the ISI at the 17 October meeting at the ISI headquarters in Islamabad with the director-general of the Media Wing of the ISI, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir, and another ISI official, Commodore Khalid Pervaiz. Shahzad wrote that the meeting ended with the following comment from Rear Admiral Nazir, which Shahzad construed as a death threat:

I must give you a favor. We have recently arrested a terrorist and recovered a lot of data, diaries and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know.

Shahzad sent the same email and information about other threats to Hameed Haroon, publisher of the English language daily Dawn and president of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society, and to colleagues at Asia Times Online. All those who spoke to Shahzad at the time including professional journalists and Human Rights Watch understood that a threat had been made to his life through the statement quoted above. In order to place the threat on record, Shahzad wrote an account of the meeting and emailed it to the recipients.

Commodore Pervaiz was appointed the new commander of the Mehran naval base in Karachi, the subject of Shahzad’s last story for Asia Times Online, in which he alleged that al Qaeda had attacked the base in Karachi on 22 May, after talks with the military to release two naval officials accused of militant links broke down. Later, in January and March, Shahzad informed Human Rights Watch by telephone of two other instances where he felt threats were made to him by or on behalf of the ISI by people who identified themselves as belonging to the agency.

Following her husband’s instructions, Shahzad’s wife, Anita Saleem, informed Human Rights Watch of her husband’s going missing on 30 May. She told Human Rights Watch that she had received an anonymous phone call saying that Shahzad would be released the same evening. I made inquiries and credible sources claimed that Shahzad was in intelligence agency custody and was expected to be released in the evening of 30 May. However, despite repeated inquiries, Human Rights Watch received no official response from the government of Pakistan about Shahzad’s whereabouts or well-being.

When Shahzad failed to reappear, Human Rights Watch notified the Pakistani and international media of our grave concern that he had been forcibly disappeared. His body was found on 31 May near Mandi Bahauddin , bearing signs of torture.

On 1 June, in response to Human Rights Watch’s decision to release Shahzad’s email to the media and accompanying statements, the ISI issued an unprecedented statement through an anonymous spokesperson to the state-controlled Associated Press of Pakistan. The ISI official denied that any threat had been made to Shahzad, stating that, “The reported e-mail of Mr. Saleem Shahzad to Mr. Ali Hasan Dayan of HRW” was “being made the basis of baseless allegations leveled against ISI.”

The following day, Haroon, the Dawn publisher, went on record to “verify that allegations levied by HRW at the Inter services Intelligence (ISI) are essentially in complete consonance with the contents of the slain journalist’s e-mail.” Haroon added that he wished to “state on the record” that the late journalist confided to him

that he had received death threats from various officers of the ISI on at least three occasions in the past five years. Whatever the substance of these allegations, they form an integral part of Mr. Shahzad’s last testimony. Mr Shahzad’s purpose in transmitting this information to three concerned colleagues in the media was not to defame the ISI but to avert a possible fulfillment of what he clearly perceived to be a death threat.

The ISI has a long history of abducting critics and others, then engaging in threats and beatings, telling relatives or others that they should not worry or complain as their loved one would soon be released, and then releasing the person with the threat of further abuse if he or she made the abductions and mistreatment known.

Given the threats from the ISI alleged by Shahzad and a long pattern of similar cases involving the ISI, there are is a strong basis to suspect the ISI’s involvement in his abduction and death. If the ISI is committed to demonstrating respect for human rights and the rule of law, it should welcome an independent investigation so that all those responsible for this serious crime can be held legally accountable. It is time that the military and intelligence agencies understood that this kind of behavior is both abhorrent and unacceptable and took concrete steps to end such practices.

Human Rights Watch urges the commission to fully investigate the death of Shahzad and the policies and practices of the ISI and other intelligence agencies. There is substantial information that has been published and Human Rights Watch would also request the commission to ascertain the names, whereabouts, and telephone records of the personnel of the Islamabad detachment of the ISI from the day Saleem Shahzad went missing to the point his body was discovered.

 

Ali Dayan Hasan

Pakistan Director

Human Rights Watch


APPENDIX: 19 OCTOBER 2010 EMAIL FROM SALEEM SHAHZAD TO ALI DAYAN HASAN

From: Saleem Shahzad [mailto:saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com] [4]
Sent: 19 October 2010 12:54
To: Ali Dayan Hasan
Subject: Fw: For the record

Dear Hasan,

I am forwarding this email to you for your record only if in case something happens to me or my family in future.

Saleem

— On Mon, 10/18/10, Saleem Shahzad <saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com [5]> wrote:

From: Saleem Shahzad <saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com [5]>
Subject: For the record
To: anazir@hotmail.com [6]
Date: Monday, October 18, 2010, 1:11 PM

For future reference:

Meeting details as on October 17, 2010 at the ISI headquarters Islamabad between DG Mediuia Wing ISI, Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir and Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Bureau Chief Pakistan for Asia Times Online (Hong Kong). Commodore Khalid Pervaiz, the Deputy Director General of Media Wing ISI was also present during the conversation.

Agenda of the meeting: discussion on Asia Times Online story published on October 15, 2010, titled Pakistan frees Taliban commander (see http://atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/LJ16Df02.html [7]).

The meeting discussed the following issues.

1-Syed Saleem Shahzad told Rear Admiral Adnan that an intelligence channel leaked the story. However, he added that story was published only after a confirmation from the most credible Taliban source. Syed also explained that DG ISPR was sent a text message about the story, but he did not respond.

2- Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir had the view that story caused a lot of embracement for the country but observed that issuing a denial from the government side is no solution. He suggested Syed Saleem Shahzad should write a denial of the story.

3- Syed Shahzad refused to comply with demand and termed it impractical.

4-Rear Admiral Adnan was curious to know the source of the story as it is a shame that information would leak from the office of a high profile intelligence service.

5- Syed Shahzad called it an intelligence leak but did not specify the source.

6-The conversation was held in an extremely polite and friendly atmosphere and there was no mince word in the room at any stage. Rear Admiral Adnan Nazir also offered Syed Saleem Shahzad a favor in following words.

“I must give you a favor. We have recently arrested a terrorist and have recovered a lot of data, dairies and other material during the interrogation. The terrorist had a hit list with him. If I find your name in the list, I will certainly let you know,”

 




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