ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of mourners turned out Wednesday for the burial of a Pakistan journalist who had said he was being threatened by the country's intelligence services before he was tortured to death.
Saleem Shahzad, a 40-year-old father of three, vanished after leaving his home in Islamabad to appear on a television talk show, two days after writing an article about links between rogue elements of the navy and Al-Qaeda.
His grief-stricken relatives have demanded a full investigation but have not apportioned blame for his killing, which came five years after he was briefly kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan and accused of being a spy.
Shahzad carved out a career writing about the plethora of Islamist militant networks operating in Pakistan, and warned human rights campaigners before his disappearance that he had been threatened by the Inter-Services Intelligence.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned his murder and said his “reporting on terrorism and intelligence issues in Pakistan brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan's stability”.
Shahzad's body was found Tuesday, about 150 kilometres (93 miles) southeast of Islamabad. Police said it bore marks of torture.
“The cause of death is torture and there are several signs of torture on his body and face,” said Ashok Kumar, one of the doctors who carried out a post-mortem at Islamabad's Pakistan Institute of Medical Science.
Another doctor told AFP that Shahzad's lungs and liver had been damaged, and that the body was swollen and bore more than 15 signs of having been beaten.
Around 300 people, mostly relatives and journalists, attended the funeral prayers before Shahzad was buried in a cemetery in the well-off Seaview neighbourhood in his home town of Karachi.
“We have lost everything. What can we do now?” sobbed his son, Fahad Saleem, resting on the shoulder of an uncle.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists announced two days of mourning and a spokesman said members would organise protests nationwide on Friday.
“I can't blame anyone at the moment. I'll analyse the whole episode before making any statement,” Wasim Fawad, a brother of Shahzad, told AFP.
“My brother was killed for writing the truth. He paid a huge price, he sacrificed his life but always spoke the truth.”
Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that a police investigation had been ordered and promised a reward of nearly $30,000.
But reporters and press groups say previous enquiries into the killings of journalists have not been made public and said they expected little this time.
Reporters Without Borders says that 16 journalists have now been killed since the start of 2010 in Pakistan, which it ranks 151st out of 178 countries in its press freedom index.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar, which has suffered heavily from attacks blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, dozens of journalists carried placards demanding the state provide members of their profession with security.
“Several journalists have been killed in the past years in Pakistan but the government has completely failed to arrest the culprits,” said Arshad Aziz Malik, president of the Khyber Union of Journalists.
“We are under threat and we demand protection,” he added.
Around 100 journalist and civil society activists staged a protest in the capital Islamabad and demanded protection.
Shahzad worked for the Italian news agency Adnkronos International (AKI) and Asia Times Online, a news site registered in Hong Kong. After he vanished on Sunday, AKI said they feared he had been kidnapped.
Last Friday, Shahzad published an investigative report in Asia Times Online saying that last week's attack on a naval air base was carried out to avenge the arrest of naval officials on suspicion of Al-Qaeda links.
The attack took 17 hours to repel. Officials said militants destroyed two US-made surveillance aircraft and killed 10 security personnel.
Prominent Pakistani investigative journalist Umar Cheema, who was abducted and tortured last year, said he believed that whoever picked up Shahzad had not meant to kill but to torture him to send a strong message to other journalists.
“It is really a very unfortunate incident. It breaks the myth that journalists in Pakistan, both local as well as foreign, are tolerated and work in a safe environment,” Cheema told AFP. AGENCIES