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Killings, Abductions Spike in Pakistan Among Journalists, Rights Workers

Pakistani journalists hold a protest rally and sit-in-protest outside the Parliament to condemn the killing of their colleague, Syed Salim Shahzad, this week after he reported being threatened by intelligence agents, in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 15, 2011

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it has received numerous reports of abductions, disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Pakistan for years, and those disturbing incidents are on the increase. The U.N. says the principal targets of such crimes are journalists, human-rights defenders and political activists.

The spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said in the past eight days alone, the U.N. Human Rights Office has received reports of the killing of one journalist in Baluchistan and the disappearance of another journalist in North Waziristan.

He says that various journalist groups cite Pakistan as one of the most dangerous places, if not the most dangerous place, for journalists.

"At least 16 were killed in 2010 and according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, nine journalists have been killed in Pakistan so far in 2011. None of the cases have been fully or satisfactorily investigated," said Colville. "In Baluchistan alone, there were disturbing reports that 25 people - this is a mix of journalists, writers, students and human rights defenders - have been extra-judicially killed within the first four months of 2011.”

Notorious cases, such as al-Qaida's kidnapping and brutal murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in 2002 are rare. Foreign journalists usually are not targeted. It is the homegrown journalists who are at risk.

Colville said the gravity of the risks they run is well documented by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. For example, he said, a commission report on Baluchistan reveals 143 cases of disappearances, including journalists, as of May 2011.

The same report lists 140 missing persons - journalists among them - found dead in Baluchistan between July 2010 and May 2011. The U.N. official said few, if any, of these crimes' perpetrators have been apprehended and brought to justice.

"We would like to see satisfactory investigations to make it clear what is happening. There are lots of rumors, lots of allegations about various cases and who is responsible, etc., and they do not seem to be satisfactorily explained," said Colville. "So I think it is key for everyone, including the authorities in Pakistan, to produce some clarity on what is going on."

The U.N. Human Rights office that monitors such events says it is gravely concerned that extra-judicial killings, abductions and disappearances are not abating in Pakistan. International human rights monitors are calling for an immediate stop to such violations, and urging Pakistan's government to take immediate steps to independently investigate these cases.