ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A Pakistani journalist who went missing two days ago from the capital Islamabad was found dead in eastern Pakistan, police said on Tuesday, in a case likely to revive debate about the freedom of the press in the country.
Police said there were signs of torture on the body of the reporter, Saleem Shahzad, who worked for Hong-Kong based online Asia Times and Italian news agency Adnkronos International.
Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan representative for Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he was under threat by Pakistan's military intelligence agency.
"He told me he was being followed and that he is getting threatening telephone calls and that he is under intelligence surveillance," he told Reuters.
"We can't say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Human Rights watch has every reason to believe that that threat was credible."
Pakistani intelligence and military officials were not immediately available for comment.
Shahzad, a 40-year-old father of three, disappeared while heading to a television station to participate in a talk show.
"His body was found by residents late Monday on a bank of a small canal," Daar Ali Khattak, police chief of Mandi Bahauddin town, where Shahzad's body was found, told Reuters. "There are some bruises on his body," he said without giving other details.
Another police official, Mohammad Aslam, said: "There were torture marks on his forehead."
Pakistan has an outspoken media that has mushroomed in recent years. It often attacks the government. But media criticism of the military is rare in the South Asian nation, a strategic U.S. ally.
Several Pakistani journalists have been found dead in similar circumstances, triggering protests by reporters and media organizations.
Journalists have also been killed by suspected militants in the tribal areas of the northwest, the epicenter of militancy in Pakistan.
Hasan said Human Rights Watch has called for an inquiry into the death of Shahzad, who closely followed security issues and militancy in Pakistan.
He wrote a story stating that al Qaeda had carried out an audacious attack on a Pakistani naval base in the southern city of Karachi this month in which 10 people were killed, and suggesting that some naval officials had suspected links with al Qaeda.
"He was threatened so many times and we had asked him to be careful while filing news reports. But he always said 'I'm ready for that'," said Zafar Mehmood, a close friend of Shahzad.
"It is a threat to the profession of journalism. It is a threat to the nation, to the country. We strongly condemn it."
(Reporting by Chris Allbritton and Michael Georgy)