Danish Siddiqui: Family of slain journalist takes Taliban to ICC

Lawyer for Danish Siddiqui’s family says there is sufficient evidence the Indian journalist was tortured and murdered in Taliban attack.

Journalists in New Delhi, India, light candles and pay tribute to Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui
Journalists in New Delhi, India, light candles and pay tribute to Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui [File: Altaf Qadri/AP Photo]

The family of Danish Siddiqui, a Reuters photojournalist who was killed in Afghanistan last year, has filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the Taliban, lawyer Avi Singh, representing Siddiqui’s family, said.

“… We have just filed before the International Criminal Court a communication addressing the war crimes and crimes against humanity in context to what happened to Danish Siddiqui,” Singh said, adding that “there is sufficient independent evidence that he was tortured, murdered and his body was mutilated”.

Siddiqui, who won 2018 the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis, was killed last July while reporting in Spin Boldak district of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.

Several reports and investigations, including by this reporter, have corroborated disturbing details of the illegal detention, torture and murder of Siddiqui and the mutilation of his body. An Afghan commando, Sediq Karzai, was also killed alongside the journalist.

“The Taliban had refused to return his body to the authorities. We had to make several appeals to their leaders, and reasoned that he was Muslim and deserved a respectable burial,” Jan Mohammad, a local civil activist involved with the investigations last year, told Al Jazeera.

Mohammad’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

“Eventually, they agreed to hand over his body to the ICRC (International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement) who gave it to the local hospital. But when it arrived, it was so badly desecrated that it could not be identified.

“The doctor attending the case told us that there were clear signs of mutilation and damage. It appeared they had a run a vehicle over his body after having shot him,” Mohammad said, sharing photographic evidence that has been reviewed by Al Jazeera.

‘Revenge killings and mass executions’

The complaint to the ICC included similar details extracted from independent medical reports. “After his killing, his body was mutilated, including being run over by a heavy vehicle in public. His body revealed marks of brutal torture and 12 bullet entry and exit points. These were received after his capture, as his bulletproof jacket has no bullet marks,” the complaint stated.

Another tribal elder from Kandahar who is familiar with the case, and who also wished to be anonymous, added that the Taliban’s irreverence towards the dead was not uncommon.

“In our district, they had killed government officials outside their houses and their bodies were lying on the road for days. They wouldn’t let anyone clear them. People were not allowed to leave their homes and feared retribution,” he said, referring to revenge killings and mass executions that were also documented by Human Rights Watch.

“It was very disturbing how they had disrespected his body. He was a Muslim, but he was Indian, and a journalist, and they killed him,” Mohammad added, shaken by the memory.

The grievous nature of the murder of a journalist – who are supposed to be protected by international laws even in war zones – has prompted the family to seek justice from the international courts, Singh said.

People carry the coffin of Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui for his funeral prayers inside the premises of Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi, India on July 18, 2021 [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

“From multiple accounts, it is clear he was tortured and killed because he was a journalist and an Indian. These acts and this killing constitute not only a murder but also a crime against humanity and a war crime,” the lawyer said, explaining that the family’s complaint seeks to bring the probe into Siddiqui’s murder under a wider investigation of Taliban war crimes recently resumed by the ICC prosecutor.

“Last year when the government fell, ICC prosecutor Karim AA Khan said there is no effective government in Afghanistan, and as such, resumed war crime investigations which were deferred on request of the former government. And we want to bring this case into that process, and apply pressure to seek justice for Danish,” he said. Singh said that as the Taliban seeks international legitimacy, the group must face accountability for its past actions.

“This was an international crime. And in the absence of rule of law in Afghanistan, the ICC has jurisdiction to investigate and try the perpetrators of Danish’s murder.”

The ICC complaint

The complaint identifies seven people accused, including unnamed local commanders, as the perpetrators of the murder, as well as the Taliban’s leadership.

Mullah Haibatullah Akhunzada, the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, deputy prime minister, and Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, minister of defence, have all been accused in the complaint.

“There is criminal liability based on the concept of superior responsibility for leaders who are in the know, and there is certainly no doubt that the Taliban chain of command knew about this, and failed to punish the perpetrators of the crime,” Singh said.

The Taliban did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the ICC complaint or on allegations made by Siddiqui’s family until this article was published.

In an interview last year, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, who has also been named in the complaint, said the Taliban was not aware of how Siddiqui was killed.

“We are sorry for Indian journalist Danish Siddiqui’s death. We regret that journalists are entering war zones without intimation to us,” he had told CNN News18.

Meanwhile, the Siddiqui family is under no illusions that this will be a smooth ride.

“We know this is a long journey on the path we have taken but it is our moral obligation and responsibility,” Omar Siddiqui, Danish’s brother, said on behalf of his parents.

“It will also highlight the dangers that journalists are facing in the conflict zones, bringing across stories that may not be covered by the media otherwise,” Siddiqui said.

“We hope that justice will be served, and Danish’s contributions to showing the pain and suffering of the people will be recognised, and inspire others to remain steadfast against injustices everywhere,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera