Concern about Pakistani dissident journalist’s disappearance in Sweden

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Swedish police to do everything possible to find a Pakistani journalist who disappeared nearly a month ago in Sweden, where he has political refugee status, and to prioritize the hypothesis that he was abducted at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency.

The editor of the Balochistan Times news website, Sajid Hussain went missing after boarding a train in Stockholm at around 11:30 a.m. on 2 March to go Uppsala, 70 km to the north, with the aim of collecting the keys to his new apartment and leaving some personal effects there.


No one has heard from him since then. His Pakistan-based wife, Shahnaz Baloch, was due to join him in Uppsala a few days later. The Swedish police told RSF that he did alight from the train in Uppsala 45 minutes after it left Stockholm.


“Sajid Hussain’s disappearance is worrying,” said Erik Halkjaer, the president of RSF’s Swedish section. “I urge the Swedish authorities to take his disappearance seriously and investigate it thoroughly. 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.”


Grounds for suspicion


“Everything indicates that this is an enforced disappearance,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “And if you ask yourself who would have an interest in silencing a dissident journalist, the first response would have to be the Pakistani intelligence services. In view of the nature of the articles published by Sajid Hussain, which often crossed the ‘red lines’ imposed by the military establishment in Islamabad, and all the other reasons for suspecting Pakistani intelligence, we urge the Swedish police to work on this hypothesis.”


Hussain’s news site, the Balochistan Times, covered human right violations and other aspects of the situation in Balochistan, a province in southwestern Pakistan where several rebel groups are active and where the army tolerates only its own version of events, as RSF described in the autumn of 2017.


According to confidential information obtained by RSF, a list of Pakistani dissidents who are now refugees in other countries is currently circulated within Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the most powerful of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.


Increase in intimidation attempts


Ahmad Waqass Goraya, a Pakistani blogger living in self-imposed exile in the Netherlands, was attacked and threatened outside his Rotterdam home on 2 February by two individuals speaking Urdu. “This attack fits the modus operandi of Pakistani spy agencies,” he told RSF afterwards. In January 2017, Goraya was abducted and tortured in Pakistan for several weeks by what he called a "government institution with links to the military.”


RSF has also been able to establish that at least two other Pakistani journalists with refugee status in European countries are currently being pressured by the ISI by means of intimidation of family members still in Pakistan.


Last year, the organization’s Swedish section noted an increase in attempts to intimidate journalists from countries with authoritarian regimes living in self-imposed exile in Sweden. They included several journalists of Iranian origin.


Pakistan is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 30.03.2020