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    South Asia
     Jun 1, 2011

Asia Times Online journalist missing

International organizations including the International Federation of Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch have called on Pakistani authorities to immediately release any information they have on Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online, who went missing on Sunday evening.

Shahzad, who has been writing for Asia Times Online for nearly 10 years, failed to show up for a scheduled appearance on a television talk show in the capital Islamabad.

The International Federation of Journalists released a statement saying it "urgently appeals to the Government of Pakistan to order its security and police agencies to respond immediately to find a

senior journalist who disappeared in Islamabad on May 29".

A spokesperson for Reporters Without Borders said the organization would be "calling on the authorities to take action in this case and do whatever they can to find him". He added that a joint letter from several organizations would be given to Pakistan's president and prime minister.

A representative for Human Rights Watch, Ali Dayan Hasan, told the Daily Times in Pakistan on Monday that "credible sources" claimed Shahzad had been apprehended by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The ISI had at the time of press not made any official comment, and Asia Times Online was not able to verify any ISI involvement.

However, members of Shahzad's family told Tony Allison, the editor of Asia Times Online, that several of Shahzad's associates believed him to be in ISI custody, that he was "safe and would be released after 48 hours" - on Tuesday evening.

Shahzad had on several occasions been warned by officials of the ISI over articles they deemed to be detrimental to Pakistan's national interests or image.

The statement by the International Federation of Journalists reads:
Urgent Appeal to Pakistan Government to Find Missing Journalist
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urgently appeals to the Government of Pakistan to order its security and police agencies to respond immediately to find a senior journalist who disappeared in Islamabad on May 29.

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief for Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online, went missing in the early evening while heading to the office of Dunya TV to record a program.

The IFJ and its affiliate, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), hold grave fears for the welfare of Shahzad, who published the first of a two-part investigative series into alleged links between al-Qaeda and Pakistani naval officials on Asia Times Online on May 26. (See Al-Qaeda had warned of Pakistan strike.)

"The IFJ is deeply worried for the safety of Syed Saleem Shahzad," IFJ Asia-Pacific director Jacqueline Park said.

"We appeal as a matter of urgency for Pakistan ís Government to do all it can to find Shahzad quickly, and to prove a commitment to reverse Pakistan's poor track record in investigating abuses against journalists."

Dunya staff tried to contact Shahzad by mobile phone at about 5.45pm on May 29 but failed to get a response, according to Dawn newspaper.

Shahzad, who is also the author of Inside al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, reported in the article that members of al-Qaeda conducted the May 22 attack on PNS Mehran naval air station in Karachi.

The article alleges the attack was mainly in response to an internal clampdown on al-Qaeda affiliates within the Pakistan navy, following failed talks between the navy and al-Qaeda over the release of naval officials arrested on suspicion of links to the militant group.

The IFJ and the PFUJ demand that Pakistan's government and security agencies respond urgently to investigate the circumstances around Shahzad's disappearance, including any link to the article published on May 26, before the trail goes cold.

For further information contact IFJ Asia -Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919. The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries. Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific. Find the IFJ on Facebook here.

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