Mechanism needed to hear newsmen's complaints -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Mechanism needed to hear newsmen’s complaints

By: Kalbe Ali

ISLAMABAD: The Saleem Shahzad inquiry commission has suggested that steps are needed to make the Press and the intelligence agencies “law-abiding and accountable” at the same time.

The commission has also urged the government to formulate a “secret services act” to make the agencies accountable to parliament.

The judicial commission was formed to investigate the murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, who was kidnapped in Islamabad on May 29 last year. His body was found in a canal in Mandi Bahauddin two days later.

The commission released the report on Friday. (Dawn had carried a story based on a summary of the report in its Friday issue).

There was a need for ‘recourse to professional and regulatory bodies against delinquent or compromised journalists”, the report observed.

The report said a number of professional and regulatory bodies were already in existence to perform a regulatory function, including the Press Council of Pakistan.

But, it added, there was no mechanism for the Press to make complaints against intelligence agencies or other state institutions which may be involved in intimidating, abducting and torturing journalists, and may also be responsible or even guilty of the incidents.

The inquiry commission proposed appointment of a human rights ombudsman to deal with such complaints.

On the other hand, it also called for measures to make intelligence agencies “law-abiding and accountable”.

“No less important, of course, is the task of making the agencies accountable. This is necessary to ensure that the agencies remain law-abiding,” the report said.

This will require a “serious effort” by parliament as, the commission observed, it appeared that legal and organisational foundations of the two major agencies (Inter Services Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau) rest on mere executive orders.

“There is therefore an urgent need for laying down a comprehensive statutory framework – perhaps a ‘Pakistan secret services act’, as in various countries of the world.

“The Commission’s recommendations in this regard may only be treated as research-based suggestions to assist parliament in its task,” the report said.

“However, whatever the details, the framework adopted must ensure constitutional standards of accountability.”

There was a need for a more accountable work culture and the agencies may also need some change if oversight of any sort upon them _ internal, parliamentary or judicial _ was to be meaningful, according to the report.

MOTIVE: Regarding the motive behind the murder of Saleem Shahzad, the report did not pin responsibility on any individual or organisation.

The commission took note that the journalist was disliked due to his writings by all concerned, including the Taliban and the al-Qaeda.

It disagreed with a general perception that the agencies might be involved in the murder, saying that authors and journalists had been writing and speaking against the ISI and the armed forces openly.

“But the question is that how many of such persons have been eliminated by the ISI and what is the proof in this behalf,” the report observed.

“Nothing has been brought on the record.”

The report also said there was no evidence available with the commission.

“In this context, it may be relevant to mention here that many who stated that they, on account of their bold writings, have been threatened by the ISI/agencies personnel, but no one whosoever, either beaten, abducted or tortured, has come forward to share his experience with the commission,” the report placed at the website of the information ministry said.

“Even Umer Cheema has not appeared personally, though he was present in the meeting dated July 9, 2011, and all of them who were present were invited to share their experience.”

(Umer Cheema, an Islamabad-based reporter, was kidnapped and tortured by unknown men two years ago.)

MEHRAN STRIKE: The Commission said the strike at Karachi’s Mehran base, on May 22 last year, was a double-edged weapon.

“On the one hand, it has divulged the penetration of al-Qaeda into the armed forces and also its influence therein, clearly conveying the fragility and vulnerability of the forces, which is alarming.”

“On the other hand, however, it can also be construed as exposing Al Qaeda assets in the forces and could therefore be a source of hampering its interest in present and also the future,” the inquiry body said.

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