Prominent Pakistani journalist Sajid Hussain, who was known for relentlessly reporting on sectarian violence and other atrocities in the province of Balochistan, was found dead in a small city north of Stockholm, Sweden last Friday.
Hussain first went missing on March 2 and was last seen boarding a train from Stockholm to Uppsala, where he was in the process of relocating. On Friday, Swedish police said that an autopsy “has led to suspected crime, but some police investigative measures still need to be taken.”
After his disappearance in early March, media watchdog groups expressed concern that he may have been targeted for his reporting. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Swedish authorities to “prioritize the hypothesis that he was abducted at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency.” And the Committee to Protect Journalists said Hussain’s disappearance, given his focus on human rights in Balochistan, a sensitive issue in Pakistan, was “especially concerning.”
In 2012, Hussain started receiving death threats for the reporting he had done on the violence that the Pakistani military and other militant groups were inflicting upon the local population in Balochistan.
Though he thought little of it at first, the threat to his personal safety became apparent when the military raided his house and interrogated him and his family after his newspaper reported on forced disappearances and human rights violations in the province. Hussain fled the country and eventually found refuge in Sweden in 2017, where he was granted political asylum last year.
During the turbulent years between his fleeing Pakistan and until he was able to settle in Sweden, Hussain went from Oman to the United Arab Emirates and then to Uganda. In 2015, he founded the Balochistan Times. The online news outlet, dedicated to the same work that forced Hussain out of his own country, “often crossed the ‘red lines’ imposed by the military establishment in Islamabad,” according to RSF.
On March 28, The Balochistan Times’ editorial board reported that Hussain had been missing since March 2. The news outlet did not speculate on the reasons for his disappearance, only reporting that they did not have any leads on his whereabouts or wellbeing. Hussain’s family was aware of his disappearance since a report was filed with the Swedish police on March 3, but refrained from making any public announcement of it so as to not interfere with the investigation.
The opinions section, however, had more to say on the matter. Soon after they broke the news of Hussain’s disappearance, the news desk wrote an op-ed profiling Hussain’s case and urging Swedish authorities to act swiftly, adding that they believe that foul play might have been involved given that Hussain’s reporting was often adversarial to the reputation of the Pakistani military.
“We as a news outlet covering a volatile region, Balochistan, believe it is a very bad omen for the freedom of the press and the right of expression if a senior Baloch journalist goes missing without trace in Europe,” the news desk wrote about four weeks before Hussain was found dead.
Nearly two weeks prior to Hussain’s death, the news desk published another op-ed criticizing the Swedish government for the amount of time it was taking to find Hussain, saying that the “longer it takes the authorities to find him the more at risk he is.”
“…It should be worrisome for the Swedish authorities too as it was under their watch that he went missing,” the Balochistan Times wrote. “Nothing can be said for sure at the moment, but if he has been abducted, this could encourage potential criminals to get even bolder next time considering the State’s response has not been as swift as many expected.”
Others wrote about their fondest memories of Hussain, in the hopes of shedding light on the importance of his work in Balochistan as well as his character. In a scathing critique of Pakistani press freedoms, a friend of Hussain’s wrote “writing in Balochistan gets you killed and writing on Balochistan gets you killed too.”
“[Hussain] is someone who uses his pen to highlight the issue of Balochistan’s missing persons, who are abducted and killed by Pakistan’s powerful military,” Yaseen Ghani wrote. “The very reason he was forced to become a refugee was to avoid the evident risk of being added to that dreadful list of the Baloch missing persons. This makes it a cruel twist of fate that he has vanished in Sweden, the country where he sought protection.”