Recently the Swedish Prosecution Authority closed the preliminary murder investigation of a Pakistani Journalist, Sajid Hussain, who was from Balochistan but was self-exiled in Sweden. The Swedish Prosecution Authority stated that they no longer suspect a crime had taken place and were closing the investigation as there is no longer cause to continue with it.
Sajid Hussain was a journalist based in Quetta. He was born into a well-known political family in Balochistan, and his uncle Ghulam Mohammad Baloch was a leading figure in the Balochistan nationalists movement. Sajid fled from Balochistan some eight years ago in 2012, from Oman to Dubai, to Uganda, and arrived in Sweden in 2018. He was granted political asylum in Sweden in 2019. He worked as a journalist in Pakistan for several years and was also running an online news site, ‘Balochistan Times’, which he started in 2015. The site focused on covering the human rights context in Balochistan. He was also known to be an ardent critic of Pakistani security forces.
About two months ago, Balochistan Times announced that Hussain had gone missing from Uppsala, Sweden on March 2, 2020. A formal case was filed with Swedish police on March 3. On April 23, 2020, Sajid Hussain’s dead body was recovered from a river in Uppsala, Sweden. Although Swedish police first launched a murder investigation, the autopsy weakened the possibility of foul play leading to Sajid’s death. At the beginning of the investigation, the Uppsala police said that although an autopsy had been carried out, the exact cause of Sajid’s death was yet to be determined.
However, right after Sajid’s death, journalism groups including ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’, ‘Reporters Without Borders’, and ‘International Federation of Journalists’ demanded a proper investigation be launched. Pakistani journalists, ‘Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)’ and civil rights activists also called upon the government to take up the matter with Swedish authorities and demand a thorough inquiry into the incident.
Some journalism organizations also expressed concerns that Hussain’s disappearance and death could have been because of his reporting. The Swedish chapter of ‘Reporters Without Borders’ took a step farther and asserted that the possible abduction and murder could have been at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency.
First of all, there is the unfortunate perception that the State of Pakistan is tough on journalists. There is some reality in the stance as Pakistan has been named one of the world’s most dangerous countries for press freedom and journalists according to RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. Pakistan ranks at 142 out of 180 countries. This is one of the reasons that critics speculate the State’s involvement behind such incidents with journalists and critics in Pakistan.
However, more often than not, these allegations end up being based on speculation and/or some propaganda. Granted that there aren’t too many ways one can investigate the security forces in Pakistan. It is also difficult to understand the true role these forces play in the government. These allegations often arise when incidents occur with journalists who are critics of the State. It would be natural to speculate because the State or security forces would have the motive and the means to make such incidents happen.
At times like these, it is also important to question whether or not the matter was even significant enough for them to intervene. Governments and Armed forces all over the world have their critics. These journalists act as watchdogs to call the State out on any injustices. It is the media’s duty to do so. This criticism is always meant to help the public see both sides of the same issues.
In such cases, it is also important to understand who the people making such allegations are. What are their motivations behind these accusations? There have been incidents where not journalists, but political parties have made accusations against security forces. An example is
political parties that have accused the military establishment of their suspicious roles in eliminating their workers abroad.
For instance, back in September 2010, MQM leader Dr Imran Farooq was killed in an attack in London. Similarly, MQM members in London, Qamar Tedy and Furqan, who were the close aides of MQM-London chief, were killed by the unidentified armed attack in South Africa. In these incidents too, fingers were pointed at Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies; but the later inquiry found the killings a result of their interparty politics.
More recently, last week in Saryab Road Quetta, a body was recovered; and again the allegations were made against the State agencies. But shortly after, the BLA spokesperson, Junaid Baloch, unequivocally told the media that the dead body recovered from Saryab Quetta is that of a man named Bakhtiyar Marri who was attached with them and was killed by the BLA for allegedly spying on them and conspiring with the State.
Such political parties and groups that are known enemies the State have the motive to make such allegation. Their agendas and grudges against the State are enough to discredit them and their accusations should not be taken seriously. While it is hard to prove or disprove these allegations of State’s role in such incidents. It is also necessary to look at them from multiple perspectives. It is necessary to look at the accusers’ motives as well.
Deaths of journalists all over the world are upsetting and a cause for concern. These deaths imply that press freedom and in turn, freedom of expression all over the world is being threatened. While these deaths are always saddening, it is not beyond belief that they could be used as instruments of propaganda against the State. Although Sajid Hussain was a journalist, he also had alleged links and sympathies with the banned terrorist organizations like the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and Baloch Republican Army (BRAS). One could also speculate that the allegations of his death against security forces are part of their propaganda against the State.
However, rather than pointing fingers at each other, it is more important to make the world and more specifically Pakistan, a safer place for journalists and members of the press. We must ensure their rights and protection, regardless of their alliances and opinions. The media and press are an important pillar of Pakistani society. They act as informers, watchdogs, and a link between the government and the public. They help the public understand their rights and form opinions and not ensuring their safety would surely be a great disservice to the nation.