Is Pakistan targeting its ‘dissident journalists’ in Europe?



atmane tazaghart (*)

On April 23, the body of Sajid Hussain Baloch, a Pakistani national, who had been given asylum in Sweden since 2017, was found in the Fyris River, outside Uppsala. According to the Swedish police, Sajid Hussain had been last seen on March 2 boarding a train in Stockholm for Uppsala. He had been missing for nearly 2 months, and a missing report was filed with the Swedish police on March 3.

It is learnt that this summer he was expecting for his wife and child, living in Pakistan, to join him in Sweden and his trip to Uppsala was to collect the keys to a new flat that he had just hired. And now, the family reunion will never happen.

Sajid Hussain fled Pakistan nearly 8 years ago, fearing threat to his life due to his writings on enforced disappearances of ethnic Baloch and human rights activists in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. His online newspaper ‘Balochistan Times’ (https://balochistantimes.com/) was critical of the Pakistani Army and intelligence for their ‘kill and dump’ policy in Balochistan.

A full-scale nationalist movement has been waged in the resource-rich province for decades, with the ethnic Baloch seeking freedom from Pakistani control. In recent years, the increased presence of the Chinese in the province, in pursuit of the US$ 62 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a project under the Belt & Road Initiative, has further riled the local Baloch, who blame China for illegally siphoning away their natural resources.

Till the day of his disappearance, Sajid Hussain’s online paper, that is blocked in Pakistan, continued to highlight the plight of the Baloch and attempted to give the Baloch a platform that could be heard internationally.

From the statements of the Swedish police, it is likely that they are going to declare Sajid Hussain’s death as an accident, even though doubts have been expressed by Baloch activists on his killing being engineered by the Pakistani intelligence.

When Hussain was reported to be missing, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) stated that keeping in view Sajid Hussain’s profile, there was a possibility that he had been abducted “at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency”. Further, Erik Halkjaer, the President of RSF’s Swedish section, is reported to have said in a statement on March 30, “considering the recent attacks and harassment against other Pakistani journalists in Europe, we cannot ignore the possibility that his disappearance is related to his work,” .

It should be remembered that in 2017, the former President and Chief of the Pakistani Army, General Pervez Musharraf, had openly suggested, during a television interview, that the Pakistani State should have recourse the assassination of “anti-Pakistani” dissidents living abroad.

In February this year, a Pakistani blogger, Ahmad Waqass Goraya, who had sought asylum in the Netherlands after he was kidnapped and tortured in January 2017 by Pakistan’s intelligence agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), reported to have been attacked by two unidentified persons outside his house in Rotterdam. A complaint was made by the blogger, but the investigation has not progressed since.

Many Pakistani journalists have fled their country of origin to escape threats from security agencies. They have found refuge in different European countries. For example, a Pakistani journalist, Taha Siddiqui, who escaped an ISI attack in Islamabad, obtained political asylum in France. Many other confreres have found refuge in the United Kingdom and the United States.

When these journalists and human rights activists applied for and were granted asylum, they had the hope of living in their adopted country without fear for their lives and of freely expressing their opinion. Now it looks like they are no longer safe, even in Europe.
The responsibility to protect these political refugee journalists is now on European governments, which must not allow their territories to be used by foreign intelligence agencies to attack the “dissidents” who cause them problems.