Pakistani journalists demand release of colleague

Two dozen journalists staged a protest in the Pakistani capital Friday to demand the immediate release of a colleague who disappeared after reporting the death of an al-Qaida leader. Hayatullah Khan, a journalist for the Urdu-language daily Ausaf, has been missing since Dec. 5 after reporting that a U.S.-made missile killed a senior al-Qaida figure from Egypt, Hamza Rabia, near the Afghan border.

The Pakistani government maintains Rabia was killed not by a missile but in a bomb-making accident at a house near Miran Shah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal region. Thousands of Pakistani forces are deployed in the region to hunt down Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants. Colleagues suspect Khan was abducted by Pakistani intelligence agents. Officials deny knowledge of his whereabouts.

At a peaceful rally in Islamabad on Friday, Sailab Mahsud, president of the Tribal Union of Journalists, said that since 2003 three journalists have been killed in Pakistan's tribal regions and others face harassment. "If these things don't stop, the day will come when there will be no journalist in the tribal regions," he said, adding that other reporters have already evacuated with their families.

Mohammed Tahir, a journalist with News Network International, a private Pakistani news agency, urged the government to ensure the release of Khan without delay. "We don't know who is holding him (Khan), but people in his area say he was in the custody of Pakistani security agencies," Tahir said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has reported that five armed men abducted Khan who had previously been threatened by security forces, Taliban militants and local tribesman because of his reporting. The New York-based group demanded the Pakistani government do everything in its power to free "this brave journalist", reports the AP. N.U.

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