Six convicted in murder of Pakistani journalist
IPI welcomes unprecedented sentence; condemns failure to protect witnesses, investigators
VIENNA, March 6, 2014 - Six people were convicted by a court in Kandhkot, Pakistan, on March 1 in connection with the 2011 murder of Pakistani Geo News reporter Wali Khan Baar.
At least 73 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 2000, according to the International Press Institute’s Death Watch. But until last week’s conviction, only the killers American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 had been brought to justice.*
“The conviction of six defendants in Wali Khan Babar’s murder is an important development in a country where the pervasive culture of impunity has been one of the primary causes behind the violence that is undermining the profession of journalism,” IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said today. “We urge the Pakistani authorities to do everything in their power to ensure that the culprits who are still at large, are brought to justice as soon as possible.”
Babar was was shot five times while driving home in his car in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi on Jan. 13, 2011. He was attacked by a group of unidentified people, who escaped after the shooting. Geo News branded the murder a “targeted-killing attack,” noting that Babar had been reporting on police search operations related to gang clashes in eastern Karachi.
Four of the six convicts, identified as Faisal Mehmood (alias Nafsiyati), Naveed (alias Polka), Muhammad Ali Rizvi and Shahrukh (alias Mani), who had been in jail since April 2011, were given a life sentence on March 1. The other two, identified as Karman (alias Shani) and Faisal (alias Mota), who are currently at large, were sentenced to death.
Events related to the investigation into Babar’s murder have been particularly worrying. In November 2013, the case was shifted from Karachi to an Anti-Terrorism Court in Kandhkot, following the murder of nine people linked to the investigations and threats to the lives of investigators, witnesses and prosecutors, according to news reports.
Rajab Ali Bengali, a police informer, was found dead on Jan. 29, 2011. Police constable Asif Rafiq, who was on the scene at the time of the murder and wrote the number of the vehicle used by the killers, was murdered on Jan. 31, 2011. Head constable Arshad Kundi, also involved in the investigations, was killed on March 19. A note was found on Bengali’s body, threatening that Kundi would be killed next.
On April 7, Naveed Khan, the brother of police inspector Shafique Tanoli, who had arrested five accused in Babar’s case, was killed. Commenting on his brother’s murder, Tanoli told the Express Tribune: “We arrested an important suspect from the Punjab. Aside from this, there was no other reason why someone would target my family. We’ve looked at all other possibilities.”
Another witness in Babar’s case, Haider Ali alias Saleem, was killed on Nov. 11, 2012 and on Sept. 26, 2013, Babar family’s lawyer, Naimat Ali Randhawa, was gunned down.
Even after the case was transferred to Kandhkot, there were attacks against the special prosecutor and police inspector Shafique Tanoli, both of whom survived. However, two of Tanoli’s colleagues were killed.
Welcoming the verdict, Pakistani journalists Umar Cheema and Usman Manzoor wrote in The News International on March 2: “The outcome of Babar’s case is radical departure from the past practices. Not only some accused were arrested and prosecuted, they have been awarded sentence. But this entire exercise didn’t [end] without taking another nine lives during the course of investigation raising serious question marks about the state’s apathy towards the witnesses, investigators and prosecutors who risked their personal safety for others.”
In a separate development, on March 2, photojournalist Ibrar Tanoli was shot by an unidentified assailant in Hazara Division, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He died of his wounds on the next day. According to news reports, prior to his murder, Tanoli, who is also the general secretary of Mansehra Press Club, had received threats, which he reported to the local police with no result.
Tanoli is the second journalist killed in Pakistan in 2014. In a street protest on March 4, journalists from Hazara Division demanded a judicial inquiry into the murder and the arrest of the perpetrators.
Joining the journalists’ call, a March 4 editorial by Pakistan’s Express Tribune said: “The state needs to play a more active role in providing security to journalists. It has failed entirely in this so far. The result is not only the fear that hangs over journalists, but also a restriction on the basic right of citizens to information.”
>> For more information, contact Barbara Trionfi, Press Freedom Manager, at +43 (1) 512 90 11 or by e-mail.
*This statement was amended on March 12, 2014, to reflect that Daniel Pearl was killed in 2002.