June 6, 2011

President Asif Ali Zardari
Office of the President
Constitution Avenue
Fax: +92 51 920 3938 / 920 1968

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
Pakistan Secretariat
Constitution Avenue

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our extreme concern regarding the death of journalist and author Syed Saleem Shahzad.

According to our information, Syed Saleem Shahzad, bureau chief of the Asia Times Online and author of the newly published Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, went missing in Pakistan on May 29, 2011, after leaving his home to participate in a television program. He never reached the television station. Early reports suggested that Shahzad was being held by Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and it was widely believed that he was being questioned in relation to an article in the Asia Times suggesting complicity between Al Qaeda and Pakistani Navy officials. Shahzad’s body was found two days later, on May 31, 2011, in Sarai Alamgir, nearly 200 kilometers from Islamabad. Reports suggest that the body, which has now been positively identified by relatives, shows visible signs of torture.

Shahzad, aged 40, had been warned by officials of the ISI on several occasions over articles they deemed to be detrimental to Pakistan’s national interests; most recently on October 17, 2010, when he was summoned for questioning and held for 24 hours. Recently he had complained about receiving renewed threats. He leaves behind a widow and three children, aged seven, 12, and 14.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that the murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad points to a deteriorating climate for freedom of expression in Pakistan. We therefore urge authorities to conduct a full and impartial investigation into his death as a matter of urgency, and to ensure that the culprits are brought to justice.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.


Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Ambassador Husain Haqqani
Embassy of Pakistan
3517 International Court NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 686-1534

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