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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pakistani journalist seeks asylum

From:The Australian
May 31, 2012 12:00AM



Human rights groups and journalists yesterday marked the first anniversary of the murder of Saleem Shahzad yesterday. Source:AP


A PAKISTANI journalist from the persecuted Shia Hazara community has sought asylum in Australia, saying he was forced to flee the country because of death threats from military-backed militants.

News of 38-year-old Amjad Hussain's plea for asylum emerged yesterday as journalists and human rights groups in Pakistan and internationally marked the first anniversary of the murder of Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzad.

Shahzad's tortured body was found floating in an irrigation channel about 100km from the Islamabad, weeks after he expressed fears for his life and revealed he had received threats from the Inter Services Intelligence agency.



Shahzad, known to have impeccable contacts in Pakistan's security establishment and within Islamic militant groups, had raised ISI hackles with a series of stories exploring links between the two sides.

A commission of inquiry into his death failed to reach a conclusion and no one has been apprehended for his murder.

Amnesty International yesterday condemned that failure and said Shahzad's killing "highlighted the perils faced by journalists in Pakistan".

Pakistan remains one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists with at least three killed in the past five months, and six last year.

Mr Hussain, who claims to have been a close friend and colleague of Shahzad, says he fled the country fearing he would meet a similar fate because of his reports on the sectarian and extra-judicial murders, disappearances and human rights abuses against the Hazara and other communities in Balochistan.

The province has been embroiled for decades in a bloody battle between Baloch nationalists and paramilitary forces. Human Rights Watch estimates more than 275 Hazaras (who adhere to the Shia Muslim faith) were murdered in targeted killings between 2008 and 2011 in Balochistan.

Mr Hussain is being held in West Australia's Curtin Detention Centre but says, despite the difficult conditions, he now feels "protected" from the Islamic terror groups that threatened his life.

"I didn't want to become another Saleem Shahzad," he said in an interview published in the Huffington Post. "I was not ready to move to a third city and still meet Shahzad's fate."

Mr Hussain was based in Balochistan for the English language news channel Dawn TV before transferring from the provincial capital Quetta to Islamabad in 2010 following death threats, and a narrow escape from a suicide attack.

But he claims the threats continued after he moved to the capital and last October he quit his job and fled the country.

Dawn TV's Quetta bureau chief Ali Shah confirmed yesterday Mr Hussain had faced threats and persecution because he was Hazara, but said he was not aware he had received threats because of his reporting.

"It's really simple. There's a sectarian problem in Quetta city. His life was in danger because he was a Shia Hazara," Mr Shah told The Australian.

An email written by Mr Hussain in January this year to his former Islamabad employers reveals his plans to seek asylum in Australia and his need for evidence to support his case of persecution.

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