Police in Sweden Friday (May 1) confirmed that a body they had found in a river last month was that of Sajid Hussain, a Pakistani journalist missing since March 2. A police spokesperson said Hussain’s body was found on April 23 in the river Fyris, outside the university town of Uppsala, 70 km north of capital Stockholm.
Aged 39, Hussain hailed from Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province, and was the editor and publisher of the Balochistan Times, an online magazine he started in 2015.
Hussain was openly critical of the Pakistani government and had fled that country in 2012, after receiving death threats for reporting on human rights violations, crime, and corruption.
According to a report in The Diplomat, Hussain had to leave behind his wife and children in Pakistan, and had spent years in exile in Oman, Dubai, and Uganda before reaching Sweden, where he obtained political asylum in 2018. Hussain was later registered at the historic Uppsala University, where he studied and worked as a lecturer. While in exile, Hussain’s Balochistan Times extensively documented the long-standing militancy, crime, and drug smuggling in his home province.
Sajid Hussain: Disappearance and death
About two months ago, Hussain was in the process of shifting to Uppsala. Then on March 28, Balochistan Times announced that Hussain had gone missing from Uppsala on March 2, and that a formal case was lodged with Swedish police on March 3.
Hussain’s relatives told the Pakistan-based Dawn that they had waited for two weeks to break their silence, believing that Hussain would have been quarantined somewhere due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Journalism groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and International Federation of Journalists, subsequently urged Swedish authorities to ensure Hussain’s safety. On April 23, Swedish investigators found a body in the Fyris river, which was later identified as Hussain’s.
Although Swedish police had first launched a murder investigation, an autopsy weakened the possibility of foul play leading to Hussain’s death, prosecutors said.
However, journalism organisations have expressed concerns that Hussain’s disappearance and death could have been because of his reporting. The Swedish chapter of Reporters Without Borders said his possible abduction and murder could have been “at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency.”
Swedish prosecutors said further autopsy results were expected, and that its investigation would continue.
The insurgency in Balochistan
Balochistan is the largest and most sparsely populated province in Pakistan, yet regarded as its most troubled. It is also known to have large reservoirs of minerals and natural gas.
Militants belonging to the Taliban and the ISIS are known to have presence in the province, as well as criminal syndicates. For decades, Baloch nationalists have asked for greater autonomy from Pakistan, and armed separatist groups have been operating in the region.
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International organisations and journalism groups have long blamed Pakistan for violating human rights in the province, including torturing and forced disappearances. Pakistan has continued to deny the accusations and has held India responsible for fanning the violence.