Malaysia deports Pakistani journalist with refugee status back to Pakistan
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Malaysian authorities to explain how a Pakistani journalist who had been living as a refugee in Malaysia for years – after being kidnapped and tortured by Pakistani intelligence – came to be deported back to Pakistan. RSF also calls on the Pakistani government to immediately say where this journalist is now.
Syed Fawad Ali Shah, also known as Fawad Shah, disappeared in Malaysia on 23 August for reasons that were not known until yesterday, when Malaysia’s home affairs minister finally acknowledged that he was deported back to Pakistan in August at the request of the Pakistan High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
The Malaysian authorities said they deported him because the Pakistani authorities told them he was a police officer who was the subject of disciplinary proceedings.
But this is not true. Shah has never been a police officer and he had in fact been residing in a completely legal fashion in Malaysia under the refugee status granted him since 2014 by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), because he had previously been kidnapped by members of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan most feared intelligence agency.
Shah was held for three and a half months in a cellar and was tortured, probably as a result of the series of by-lined investigative stories he had written for The Nation newspaper about enforced disappearances and about ISI’s presumed links with Taliban groups.
“Due to the fault of the Malaysian authorities, no one knows Syed Fawad Ali Shah’s current whereabout and in what circumstance he survives,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on Malaysian home affairs minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail to shed light on the unacceptable blunders that led the immigration department to deport a person who had, in fact, been placed under its protection. We also call on Pakistani interior minister Rana Sanaullah Khan to immediately reveal where this journalist is currently being held, and under what conditions.”
Shah’s Pakistani wife, who prefers not to be identified, has not seen or heard from her husband since 23 August. When she travelled to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, on 19 December to try to find out what had happened to him, both the police and the immigration department referred her to UNHCR, saying they had no jurisdiction over his case.
After contacting her, RSF asked the Malaysia authorities on 30 December to shed all possible light on the case. Shah’s wife then reported that, in a call she received from an unknown number Monday, a Pakistani person advised her to stop looking for her husband.
“It was made clear to me that my life would now be in danger if I returned to my country, because the intelligence agencies would now identify me as the wife of Syed Fawad Ali Shah,” she said.
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have repeatedly tried to repatriate Shah in recent years. The Pakistani government submitted several requests of this kind to Interpol, which rejected them on the grounds that they were baseless.
Three years ago, on 6 December 2019, Shah received a letter stamped “ISI” at his Malaysian home, the address of which was supposed to be a secret. Ordering him to present himself to the Pakistan High Commission in order to return to Pakistan, the letter said: “We thought you had learnt your lesson but you are still not mending your ways.” And it added: “If you refuse to [return to Pakistan], we will make a horrific example of you.”
The many cases of journalists being subjected to intimidation, abduction and torture is one of the main reasons why Pakistan is now ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index. Shah’s expulsion is liable to have a negative impact on Malaysia’s ranking, which is currently 113th.