ISLAMABAD — A Pakistani journalist forced into exile in Sweden after covering violence, crime and a simmering insurgency in his home country was found dead on Friday in a river north of Stockholm, the Swedish police said.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said an autopsy did not point strongly to foul play in the death of the journalist, Sajid Hussain, 39, but journalism groups expressed skepticism and concern.
Reporters Without Borders suggested in a statement that Hussain’s death could have followed an abduction “at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency.” Taliban and Islamic State militants also operate in Hussain’s home province in Pakistan, as do criminal groups.
Pakistan has long been a dangerous country for journalists, who regularly face threats, intimidation and attacks from a vast array of forces, ranging from the country’s powerful intelligence agencies to its militant groups. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented more than 60 instances in which Pakistani journalists have been killed in direct relation to their work over the past three decades.
Hussain was granted asylum in Sweden in 2019, after leaving Pakistan seven years earlier while facing threats over his critical reporting. From exile, he served as editor-in-chief of The Balochistan Times, an online news site that chronicled organized crime, drug smuggling and the decadeslong insurgency in Baluchistan province.
“If you look at their home page you can see they are not big fans of the central government in Pakistan,” said Erik Halkjaer, president of the Swedish chapter of Reporters Without Borders.
The largest of the country’s four provinces in area, Baluchistan is characterized by a rugged, mountainous and largely uninhabited terrain filled with huge reservoirs of natural gas and minerals. Baluch nationalists have long demanded a greater share of the wealth generated from the province, and for decades separatists have taken up armed resistance.
The police in Sweden said they found Hussain’s body in a river near Uppsala, a city 35 miles north of Stockholm. Hussain, who was also studying and conducting research in Sweden, disappeared about two months ago while in the process of moving from Stockholm to Uppsala.
“He was compassionate and wrote extensively on the suffering of the Baluch people. His work often got him into trouble as the authorities did not like his reporting of Baluchistan’s forbidden stories, the reason he had to leave and live in exile,” The Balochistan Times reported on its website.
The Baluch insurgency has slowed in recent years, but anger toward the intelligence agencies remains high. Pakistani officials have denied charges of human rights abuses, accusing India of fanning the insurgency. The insurgents themselves have been accused of human rights violations against people of other ethnicities living in the province.
The Pakistan Press Foundation, an independent group, painted a grim picture of press freedom and journalist safety in a report released Saturday.
“An environment where journalists are the target of government and other officials’ scorn and are often threatened for their work — both verbally and physically — creates a bleak picture for press freedom and the safety of journalists in Pakistan,” the group said.
The prosecutor’s office in Sweden said that its investigation would continue and that further autopsy results were expected.