Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday called for an independent international probe into journalist Arshad Sharif’s murder after it said United Nations special rapporteurs “deplored” the Pakistani and Kenyan governments for their “failure to cooperate and conduct any serious investigation”.

Sharif, a broadcast journalist associated with ARY News, was shot dead in Nairobi in October last year. Initial reports on his killing by the Kenyan media had quoted local police as saying that Sharif was shot dead by police in a case of “mistaken identity”.

However, later reports from the Kenyan media reconstructed the events surrounding the killing, stating that an occupant in Sharif’s car at the time of his killing was believed to have shot at paramilitary General Service Unit officers.

In October, RSF had itself accused authorities in both countries of being uncooperative and engaging in duplicity following a year-long investigation into the murder.

In a press release issued today, the watchdog referenced the two UN special rapporteurs, recalling that they had written to both the countries’ governments in October and castigated their handling of the matter, adding that the tone of their letters was “unrelenting”.

The letter to the Pakistani authorities, written by Irene Khan, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, had expressed “deep concern” about the “death threats and legal actions” against Sharif.

It had also called on the government to “cease all criminalisation and harassment of journalists carrying out their legitimate work, particularly those whose work is of a political nature,” noting that the threats against Sharif and his eventual death were “part of a wider trend of intimidations against journalists in Pakistan, particularly those who criticise state institutions.”

It had also noted that there was “a distinct lack of clarity as to why the investigations have not yet been successful and the perpetrators brought to justice” in the case.

RSF said that the rapporteurs, like the organisation’s own investigation into the matter, had “deplored the many inconsistencies and biases in the Kenyan and Pakistani investigations, and the lack of cooperation between the two countries in their desultory efforts to identify those responsible”.

RSF pointed out that at the end of its investigation, it had condemned the fact that Pakistan authorities were favouring the hypothesis of Sharif’s Kenyan host Waqar Ahmed being a central figure in the murder “without any supporting evidence”.

Arnaud Froger, head of RSF’s investigation desk, stated that the UN letters were “unequivocal” and there was “a clear lack of will on the part of both Kenya and Pakistan to establish the precise circumstances of this journalist’s murder and identify those responsible.”

He emphasised that only an independent international investigation would be able to “establish the facts” about the case.

Govt response to UN’s October letter

Meanwhile, the Government of Pakistan’s response to the UN rapporteurs’ October letter, is available on the UN Human Rights Office’s website.

The reply, dated December 2, said the government was “fully determined” to pursue the murder case and ensure that those responsible were held to account.

It said the government was in close contact with Kenyan authorities on the matter, adding that their cooperation was required to conclude the case.

The reply outlined the measures taken related to the case such as the Supreme Court’s suo motu notice, the formation of a special joint investigation team (SJIT) and five progress reports sent to the apex court.

It added that the SJIT’s second and third phases pertaining to the investigation in Kenya and the United Arab Emirates remained a “work in progress” since they were dependent on the cooperation of the two countries.

The case

Sharif had left Pakistan in August 2022 after multiple cases of sedition were registered against him in different cities. It was reported that he initially stayed in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after leaving Pakistan and later went to Kenya, where he was murdered.

The government subsequently formed a team that travelled to Kenya to investigate the killing. A progress report of the murder probe was furnished before the Supreme Court in March.

The matter was also addressed in an unprecedented conference in October last year, where the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt Gen Nadeem Ahmed Anjum had joined former Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) DG Lt Gen Babar Iftikhar to speak about the journalist’s killing.

The Islamabad police had registered the FIR against the murder on the orders of the Supreme Court in December 2022.

The complaint was lodged by the station house officer of the Ramna police station, Rasheed Ahmed, and nominated three persons — Waqar Ahmed, Khurram Ahmed, and Tariq Ahmed Wasi.

The FIR invoked Sections 302 (punishment for murder) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

It stated that the murder took place in Kenya on October 23. The complainant said that he reached the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences on the night of October 26 when Sharif’s body reached the hospital and a postmortem examination was carried out.

After that, he said the medico-legal officers handed over four parcels of evidence to the police. The FIR added that according to the postmortem report, Sharif died due to the firing of ammunition.

Siddique had questioned then why the case was registered on the complaint of the police when the slain journalist’s family members were still alive. She had said that the FIR could only be lodged by her mother-in-law (Sharif’s mother).

In September, an Islamabad district and sessions court stopped proceedings in the case of journalist Arshad Sharif’s killing due to a “lack of interest” from the prosecution

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