News & Analysis

Who Killed Sajid Hussain?

By Malik Siraj Akbar

The Baluch generally keep their expectations low when it comes to human rights. When somebody goes missing, the benchmark is kept so low that the mere recovery of the missing person is considered a big deal. Whether the person is recovered dead or alive is temporarily insignificant. Most Baluchs who await their loved ones even don’t get to see them again, either dead or alive. It might be very provocative to say that we are “lucky” that the missing Baluch journalist Sajid Hussain’s body has finally been found. Tragically, what was found in Fyris River outside Uppsala was his dead body. 

For weeks, I cautioned fellow journalists to refrain from using the word “was” in their writeups and communication about Sajid Hussain, who mysteriously disappeared from Sweden on March 2, hoping that he was alive and would come back soon. The recovery of Sajid’s dead body at least provides some, if not complete, closure in his case. Unlike several other Baluch families, his won’t be waiting for years or forever for him to return home after he went missing. 

Sajid died in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody believed that he would go missing for a long time in an extremely safe place like Sweden, known for its freedoms and the rule of law. His friends and family became frustrated only after the police began to test their patience by not making any progress in tracing his whereabouts. Sajid’s furious friends equated the Swedish Police with their Pakistani counterparts in terms of their slow and inefficient work. They seemed frustrated that the police, after several weeks, could not find out where Sajid had gone and what had happened to him. Now that they have found him, the police have, to some extent, restored their reputation. The cops are still not telling us how Sajid died. Will we have to wait for several more weeks? Maybe. 

Soon after Sajid’s disappearance, different theories emerged, the most prominent being implicating the Pakistani spy agencies. Even reputed watchdogs like the Reporters Without Borders subscribed to this theory and has reiterated it after Sajid’s killing. RSF and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) are both demanding a deeper investigation into the matter. It seems they are not fully convinced over the police spokesman Jonas Eronen’s statement that it “could equally have been an accident or suicide.”

Patient and Cautious 

Sajid’s family exercised tremendous patience and restraint during this excruciating period. Despite temptations and widespread speculations, the family refrained from raising fingers at anyone, including the Pakistani government or its intelligence agencies. One reason why his family was hesitant to openly blame Pakistan was the fear of tarnishing his professional credibility and integrity after it turns out that Islamabad was not behind this incident. 

It was unusual that the Pakistani authorities did not publicly comment even though several quarters raised fingers at them. In the recent past, the Inter-Services Public Relations, the media wing of the Pakistani Army, has been very defensive and vocal whenever organizations such as the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement accused it of misusing its official authority. However, the Army did not utter a word when they were blamed for possibily being behind harming a Baluch journalist. This reverberated the culture of impunity that the Human Rights Watch had documented in a report on Baluchistan with a similar title: We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years.

Asylum-Seekers’ Predicament 

Sajid’s case has drawn attention to another critical issue: asylum-seekers’ relationship with their home countries. People apply for political asylum not because they hate their country or have committed a crime there. They depart because their government failed to protect them, and they face persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. This situation does not have to be a permanent issue, as circumstances are subject to a change through good governance. For instance, if a new government or a constitutional amendment succeeds in protecting and defending a particular group’s rights (say that of the Baluch in Pakistan, for instance), its members would no longer have a solid ground to fear persecution or seek asylum. Lamentably, the political situation in Baluchistan has been so precarious that most Baluch applicants, considering the extensive and easily Google-able evidence of Pakitan’s repression of the Baluch, qualify for asylum anywhere in the world.

While it makes sense why most countries do not allow asylum-seekers to return to their home countries, from where they sought protection, it is important that international human rights experts and advocates focus on the rights of the citizens after they have been granted political asylum in one country. Organizations like Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan must devise a mechanism to protect asylum-seekers from being harassed or deprived of their citizenship rights in their native countries. 

Currently, there is a stigma attached to being an asylum-seeker, although it is perfectly legal for anyone to request for asylum if they feel their life is at risk in their home country. Nobody should talk of a dead (or alive) person in terms like, “yes, but he got asylum.” No government should disown its citizens because they received asylum elsewhere. Seeking and receiving asylum is no crime. This should be preached and taught at all educational institutions in the world, educating every citizen of their legal options when they are facing death and harm.

In Sajid’s case, it would be naive to hope that the government of Pakistan would take an interest in his case. However, it is still reasonable to expect a response from the Pakistani government because Sajid was a Pakistani citizen. In its editorial on April 2, the News International, a Karachi-based newspaper for which Sajid had previously worked, rightly urged the Pakistani embassy in Sweden to “try and help in a case involving a Pakistani citizen.” Unfortunately, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a frequent champion and defender of the rights of the Kashmiris and Muslims anywhere in the world, failed to recover a missing Pakistani citizen who happened to be a Baluch. 

Worst still, Sajid belonged to Mand, the hometown of Zubaida Jalal, one of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet ministers. Politics or the difference of opinion shouldn’t blind us so much that we hesitate from intervening to save someone’s life when we can. Zubaida could have certainly asked Khan to help save Sajid’s life. There is no evidence she did. Khan too ignored the issue although it was reported in the world media, from the BBC to Al-Jazeera, the Guardian and the Voice of America. 

The Pakistani government must come clean on Sajid. If they were not behind his killing, why didn’t they intervene to save his life? Pakistan failed Sajid twice, once at home and then abroad.

Spying on Diaspora

Sajid’s death sends this grim message to other asylum-seekers: no place in the world is entirely safe. If Jamal Khashoggi and Sajid can go missing and eventually get killed far away from their home countries, no asylum-seeker should assume that they cannot be hunted down.  

Pakistan’s diplomatic missions, as once reported by the New York Times, regularly spy on the diaspora throughout the world, including the United States under the disguise of “community outreach.” While everyone is welcome in the official circle, Baluch activists are in high demand for the missions abroad to support Islamabad’s Baluchistan policy because they make fantastic headlines. Pakistani diplomats (and their defense attachés) have a fetish for Baluch dissidents surrendering in official ceremonies, making guilty speeches, “confessing” that they were “misused by the Indians,” and now anxious to join the “national mainstream.” This might seem like an absurd and awkward display of patriotism, such ceremonies often get extensive coverage in some of Pakistan’s top news organizations because many of them hire real-estate-agent-turned-part-time-correspondents or Uber-driver-by-night-and-foreign-correspondent-by-day types). 

Aftward, the embassy or the consulate general, facilitates the formation of organizations of Baluchs supportive of the establishment, setting up a network of perpetual spying on the community. Such structures are particularly dangerous for young people who find the West as a great place to explore their freedoms. They go the US or Europe hoping that they will enjoy the freedom of (or from) political and religious thought while the diplomatic missions, mostly operated by officials from conservative backgrounds, immediately start reading such freedom of speech and thought as anti-Islam or anti-Pakistan. 

Hence, they start keeping tabs on people they disagree with or view them as a threat. For asylum seekers, such as Sajid, one way to liberate one’s self from these traps is to attend local universities and build networks of like-minded friends in their new country. He was half-way there, establishing a reputed online news organization, the Balochistan Times, and attending a local school in Sweden. His life was cut short.

This should not be the end of Sajid’s story. The Swedish government failed in its promise to Sajid that he would be safe there. It should at least be honest now in sharing information about what caused his death. If he was killed, what are the Swedish authorities doing to trace his killers? For Islamabad, the question remains unchanged even after a decade: Why isn’t Baluchistan safe for its own children? 

Malik Siraj Akbar is the editor-in-chief of the Baluch Hal
Email: malik@thebaluchhal.com

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