Pak head of anti-corruption group 'receives death threats'

Islamabad: The head of Pakistan's branch of global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said Wednesday he had received death threats for exposing the "misdeeds" of the government.

"I have received death threats," Syed Adil Gilani told AFP by telephone from his Karachi office, but declined to name those who had issued the threats.

"They are calling me anti-state and a foreign agent," he said.

The group downgraded Pakistan eight places in its 2010 Corruption Perception Index, saying the country was regarded as the world's 34th most corrupt.

"We are exposing misdeeds of government officials," Gilani said.

The head of Transparency International, Huguette Labelle, has written to President Asif Ali Zardari and Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry over growing concerns about the ability of the Pakistani chapter to operate freely.

According to a copy of the letter to Chaudhry seen by AFP, Labelle asked the top judge "to address any possible state intimidation against TI Pakistan".

The letter cited press reports that government departments were asked to sever contacts with the watchdog's Pakistani chapter.

It also said Interior Minister Rehman Malik reportedly called TI "a detective agency", threatened legal action against its officials for "bribery" and threatened that the organisation would not be allowed to work in Pakistan.

The letter asked the judge "to promote our shared quest for good governance by helping our colleagues in Pakistan re-establish common ground and purpose with the current administration without worry about the legal basis for their work".

Casy Kelso, advocacy director of Transparency International's secretariat in Berlin, told AFP by telephone that there had been no response from Pakistan.

He confirmed that the head of the Pakistani chapter had received "more than one death threat" but did not give further details.

Gilani linked the intimidation campaign to TI monitoring the flow of money under a record USD 7.5 billion US aid programme passed by Congress.

The group signed an agreement with USAID in September to set up a hotline to monitor use of the funds.

The US embassy in Islamabad confirmed receiving the same letters from Transparency International, but said the hotline was not yet up and running, so cast doubt on a direct link to the USAID programme.

Kelso said that when Transparency International chapters start measuring specific misuse or divergence of funds, intimidation can increase and take on a more serious form.

Bureau Report