Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Tuesday that a judicial commission would be formed to probe the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif, reportedly at the hands of the Kenyan police two days ago.
In a video message from Saudi Arabia today, he said that the commission would be responsible for determining the facts of the "tragic incident in a transparent and conclusive manner".
Earlier, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb had said that the head of the commission would also be able to appoint members from civil society and the media fraternity in order to ascertain the facts.
Sharif was shot dead in Kenya allegedly by the local police on Sunday night, with an official police statement later expressing "regrets on the unfortunate incident" and saying an investigation was underway.
Initially, Kenyan media quoted the local police as saying Sharif was shot dead by police in a case of “mistaken identity”.
Amid widespread condemnation and condolences pouring in from various quarters, a petition was filed with the IHC yesterday, seeking the court to order the formation of a judicial commission to investigate why the journalist was forced to flee Pakistan, and later the United Arab Emirates. The court had admitted the plea the same day.
IHC tells govt to keep journalists’ bodies in the loop
Separately, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed the government to keep journalist bodies on board while it investigates. During the hearing, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah said he made it to the court today for this particular case.
"Did anyone visit the aggrieved family? Do they need any [legal] assistance," Justice Minallah asked while reminding the government of the court's previous orders wherein directions were issued to government officials to visit the heirs of the slain journalist.
Petitioner Shoaib Razzaq said the body of the slain journalist would reach home today. He reiterated his request to the court that a judicial commission must be formed to probe the death of Sharif.
Justice Minallah remarked that journalists' organisations should be kept on board with the inquiry, and the formation of the commission at this stage would not serve any purpose.
Deputy Attorney General Syed Ahsan Raza Shah said the incident was indeed unfortunate, adding a report from the Kenyan government was awaited.
"Once the report from the Kenyan government is received and if the petitioner raises any objections to it, we will listen to his concerns," he told the court.
After hearing arguments, the court adjourned the hearing for a week.
The petition requested the court to order the formation of a judicial commission to investigate why the journalist was forced to flee Pakistan, and later the United Arab Emirates.
“The judicial commission may also be directed to liaison with national agencies and the Kenyan agencies and probe into the heinous act which had led to the unwarranted cold-blooded murder of Arshad Sharif,” the petition stated.
It also requested the court to issue directives for bringing the journalist’s body back to Pakistan.
Body to arrive early tomorrow morning
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office, in a statement, said "the mortal remains of the late journalist are being repatriated from Nairobi tonight on board flight departing Nairobi at 1:25am for Doha."
"Onward flight will leave Doha at 1935 hours (25 Oct) and arrive Islamabad 1:05 hours tomorrow night," the FO added.
It said Pakistan High Commissioner Saqlain Syeda was at the Nairobi airport overseeing the arrangements.
Sharif's wife Javeria Siddique, meanwhile, tweeted that her husband was "coming back home in a coffin", adding that "authorities in Kenya are answerable to us".
Her tweet also had photographs of Sharif's coffin.
President Alvi visits Sharif's family
Later in the day, President Dr Arif Alvi and First Lady Samina Alvi paid a visit to condole with Sharif's family.
Expressing grief over the killing, the president prayed for the deceased and said his services for free journalism were "unforgettable".
"Arshad Sharif used to fearlessly express his opinion with research and facts," the president said.
US urges full investigation by Kenya
US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, meanwhile, said the United States was "deeply saddened" by Sharif's death.
"We encourage a full investigation by the government of Kenya into his death. It’s not entirely clear that we know all the circumstances at this point regarding what led to his death, but we do urge a full investigation," he said during a regular press briefing.
Asked about whether journalists critical of the political system in Pakistan should feel safe in Pakistan, Price said: " This is a country that cherishes the rights that are enshrined in our constitution, in our Bill of Rights.
"I, of course, am not here to offer advice to everyone, but these are rights that are embedded in our country’s experience, that are embedded in America’s DNA. We also believe that these rights are universal. These are rights that should not be only protected here. These are rights that should be at the heart of societies around the world.
"And when countries fail to respect these rights, when they actively try to contravene these rights – in this case, when they attempt to suppress, repress, or otherwise harass journalists – they tend to hear about it from the United States. And that’s a good thing," he said.
A statement released by the National Police Service of Kenya later confirmed that the incident occurred last night along the Kwenia farm/Kamukuru Marram road within Magadi, where “a foreigner namely Arshad Mohammed Shariff (sic), a Pakistani national aged 50 years was fatally wounded by a police officer while a passenger in a motor vehicle KDG 200M.
“At the time of the incident, deceased was in company of his brother namely Khurram Ahmed. Incident follows a circulation from Pangani Police of a stolen motor vehicle. The officers trailing the motor vehicle towards Magadi alerted police in Magadi who erected a road barrier,” it said.
Additional reporting by Naveed Siddiqui.