ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday described the recent visit of a Special Joint Investigation Team (SJIT) to the UAE and Kenya to probe the tragic killing of journalist Arshad Sharif as “a story of foot dragging and people not cooperating”.
“It is not a productive trip of SJIT and the fresh interim report has nothing positive in it,” regretted Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial while heading a five-judge SC bench that had initiated suo motu proceedings regarding an independent and transparent investigation into the murder of Arshad Sharif in Kenya.
Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, a member of the bench, termed the visit “definitely a pleasure trip” when Additional Attorney General (AAG) Chaudhry Aamir Rehman conceded that the SJIT was not provided access to the crime scene in Kenya, while the UAE authorities said official cooperation was possible only when a request for mutual legal assistance (MLA) by the Pakistan government was approved by their justice ministry.
A request sent on Jan 15 by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to talk to the Kenyan president in this regard has not yet been materialised, the AAG said. He informed the court that a request for issuance of red warrants by Interpol against two brothers and host of Arshad Sharif — Khurram and Waqar — had been made, adding that he had spoken to the Foreign Office which recalled that Kenya was a friendly country and always voted and supported Pakistan at international forums and, therefore, “our foremost effort was to get cooperation through MLA rather than losing a potential supporter forever”.
“Do you think the family of the journalist will accept the story by SJIT on the investigation?” Justice Naqvi asked the AAG.
At the last hearing on Jan 5, the apex court had emphasised that the SJIT should leave for the UAE and Kenya fully prepared with certain assurances in advance for fruitful progress in the probe.
Justice Naqvi and CJP Bandial asked SJIT convener DIG Headquarters Islamabad Awais Ahmad whether any tangible material or evidence had been collected from Dubai or Kenya about the murder of Arshad Sharif. Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan reminded the convener about journalist’s laptop, hard drives or cell phones in someone’s possession and emphasised on the domestic aspect of investigations to determine Arshad’s motive behind leaving for Dubai.
Apparently, Arshad left the country to save his life when his family and profession were here in Pakistan, Justice Ahsan said, adding that what the information he received that his life was under danger and what situation was created that he felt threatened to leave the country, needed to be investigated.
“Had any investigation ever been done to identify what were the causes which persuaded the foreign country asking Arshad to leave the country?” asked Justice Ahsan. These are some pieces of information which needed to be collected and the jigsaw puzzle when put together will help in understanding the motive and the culprit behind the heinous crime, he said.
Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar wondered why the SJIT did not record the statements of Khurram and Waqar.
The SJIT officer conceded that no material had been collected, though evidence of some witnesses had been recorded.
The CJP said the Foreign Office should find out what happened in between and what was the reason for reluctance on the part of the Kenyan government when earlier they had promised to cooperate, highlighting when “you were indulging with a foreign country, one has to be very careful”.
The CJP also asked why the 592-page fact finding report on the murder was released to the media.
Justice Ahsan reiterated the need for involving international agencies like the United Nations, saying going to the UN was not adversarial since they have diplomatic channel, access and legitimacy.
The CJP observed that there were certain witnesses who were not telling the truth and, therefore, the SJIT must find out the antecedents of those who financed the journalist in Kenya.
A Foreign Office representative told the court that the Kenyan authorities were committed to cooperating with Pakistan and recalled that a parallel investigation was also going on in Kenya. As of now, a bilateral channel is operating to press for cooperation from the Kenyan side, he said.
He explained that the UN has no specific procedure, adding that “we had sought their assistance in 2008-9 in the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, but the investigation took place inside Pakistan that too after prior-permission of the Security Council”.
The CJP highlighted the possibility of getting a legal advice from Kenyan lawyers since the SJIT has to move in accordance with the Kenyan laws to find out what suitable rights they have to help in the murder probe.
He also recalled how diplomatic missions in Pakistan sometimes wrote to the Supreme Court about some cases of their nationals in district courts, and the apex court helped them out.
Justice Ahsan said the SJIT should make it sure that the journalist who come forward in this regard should not remain unprotected.
The CJP ignored a request by the wife of Arshad Sharif to have a certified copy of the interim report, saying that it will create doubts among people. He said the two brothers were still in Kenya, but have gone into hiding because of the release of fact-finding report.
The hearing was postponed until March, but the SJIT was required to furnish its report in two weeks.
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2023