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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Mystery of murdered tribal journalist
By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Hayatullah Khan posing with RPG in Afghanistan
Hayatullah Khan pictured on a reporting trip to Afghanistan

The murder of a Pakistani journalist who reported on the alleged killing of an al-Qaeda suspect highlights the dangers for the media in the tribal areas.

The body of Hayatullah Khan, himself a tribesman, was found last Friday in North Waziristan, more than six months after he was abducted by unknown persons.

His family blame the security forces in the tribal areas for his murder.

The authorities have consistently denied allegations that the security forces had anything to do with Mr Khan's kidnapping or killing, and the government has ordered a judicial inquiry.

The security forces changed their statement at least three times
Ehsanullah Khan, brother

Meanwhile, journalists in major Pakistani cities have held protest demonstrations against the murder.

The case underlines the immense pressure journalists in the tribal areas are under and the effect this is having on the media's relations with the government.

'Recognised' kidnappers

Hayatullah Khan was kidnapped near the town of Mir Ali in December last year.

His family said at the time he had been taken by the security forces, who were furious at his "independent reporting".

Mr Khan went missing after reporting that al-Qaeda suspect Abu Hamza Rabia had been killed in a US air strike - and not in an accidental explosion while making a bomb, as claimed by Pakistani authorities.

Mr Khan's younger brother, Ehsanullah, recently spoke to the BBC News website in detail about his brother's disappearance.

Ehsanullah says that Hayatullah clearly recognised his kidnappers when his car was stopped as he was nearing home in December last year.

"He told his guards and tribesmen who were in the car with him not to resist those people," says Ehsanullah.

Ehsanullah with the hood and handcuffs he says his brother brought back with him from Afghanistan
Ehsanullah Khan shows the hood used by US forces at Bagram

"He said he would soon be back."

Hayatullah belonged to the influential Daur tribe of North Waziristan.

A massive manhunt was launched by his tribesmen but, according to Ehsanullah, they did not find anything that could convince them that Hayatullah had been taken by the Taleban or any other militant group based in the area.

"The security forces changed their statement at least three times," he says.

"They first said he owed someone money and had been kidnapped by some debt enforcer.

"A few weeks later, they said he may have been taken by the Americans because his wife was supposedly very close friends with Abu Hamza Rabia's wife.

"Still later, they told us that he had probably been taken by the Taleban."

'US detention'

In the meantime, Ehsanullah had made contact with various media bodies, including the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

I know those officers. They wanted Hayatullah to report that Abu Hamza Rabia had been killed by an American missile
Mehrunnisa, widow

Pressure from these organisations forced the Pakistani government to order an inquiry into his disappearance.

The inquiry was entrusted to the Joint Staff Headquarters of the Pakistan army.

It reported in March this year that Hayatullah was not taken by the security forces.

The inquiry report suggested that he had most probably been taken by the Taleban somewhere in Afghanistan.

Mr Khan's family rejected the inquiry report, arguing that the Taleban are not known for taking prisoners.

"They either release their captives or kill them usually within a couple of days," says Ehsanullah.

"The fact that months went by without any of us hearing from him means he was in the custody of the authorities."

Protest in Karachi
Journalists want Khan's killers brought to justice

Ehsanullah Khan compared his brother's situation to one of his earlier disappearances.

About two years before his kidnapping, Hayatullah was arrested by the Americans in Afghanistan.

Suspected of being a Taleban ally, he was interrogated at the Bagram airbase for almost two months.

"He managed to convince the Americans that he was nothing more than a journalist and they released him," says Ehsanullah.

He showed the BBC News website the hood and the handcuffs they had used on Hayatullah and which he had brought back as souvenirs.

'I warned him'

Speaking to the BBC after Hayatullah's body had been recovered, his widow, Mehrunnisa, said her husband had fallen victim to a conspiracy hatched by the Pakistani security forces.

Union leader Mazhar Abbas
It may be impossible for the government to shake off the allegations of being guilty of killing a journalist
Journalists' union leader Mazhar Abbas

"He got 20 phone calls from intelligence officers on 2 December 2005," Ms Mehrunnisa said.

"I know those officers. They wanted Hayatullah to report that Abu Hamza Rabia had been killed by an American missile.

"I warned him that they were trying to trap him but he did not listen to me."

The family says that they have little faith in the judicial inquiry as the "government knew all along where he was and who had taken him".

Ehsanullah Khan says he was told by the local authorities that he would hear about his brother between 15 and 20 June.

"I thought they had decided to release him and we were planning to welcome him back," Ehsanullah says.

"Little did we know that we would be told, again by an army major, where to collect his body from."

Journalists protesting against the murder say it is not just a matter of the government's failure to protect journalists reporting from the tribal areas under extremely hazardous circumstances.

"In this case, the government stands as the prime accused," says Mazhar Abbas, secretary general of Pakistan's largest journalist union.

"Unless it can pinpoint and arrest Hayatullah's murderers, it may be impossible for the government to shake off the allegations of being guilty of killing a journalist."

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