The murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad instantly set off calls that his killing be investigated and the perpetrators be brought to justice. A look at the cases of other journalists who have been killed in mysterious circumstances over the last year, however, shows that after an initial flurry of activity the investigations stall and the case rarely makes it to court.
Before Shahzad, three reporters had been killed by unknown assailants since the start of 2010: Wali Khan Babar of Geo News, Misri Khan of daily Ausaf and Ghulam Rasool Birhamani of the Daily Sindhu.
Babar was killed on January 13 in Karachi, when gunmen stopped his car and shot him multiple times in the head and neck. According to the Capital City Police, in whose jurisdiction the case falls, five men have been arrested in connection with Babar’s case. The principal suspect in the case is Liaquat, an employee of the Karachi Building Control Authority. A Capital City Police officer, speaking off the record, said the police were trying to catch Liaquat but feared that his life, too, may be in danger because they believe his co-conspirators may be trying to silence him.
The police and even Babar’s family refused to comment further on the case. This could be out of fear. After Babar’s murder, three men linked to the case have also been killed, including two policemen and the teenage brother of a policeman. Since the initial arrests, the case seems to have stalled as Liaquat is believed to be in hiding.
Misri Khan was shot dead outside the Hangu Press Club on September 14, 2010. Since the area has a large concentration of militants, it was assumed that they were responsible for his killing. An officer at the Hangu Police Station, though, said there may have been some police involvement in the murder. According to him, about a dozen police officers and security officials had been quietly suspended, including the SHO of Hangu Police Station. He added that while the Taliban had taken credit for Misri’s killing, they often claim credit for high-profile killings even if they have not carried it out themselves.
Ghulam Rasool Birhamani was killed in Wahi Pandi on May 10, 2010 a day after he had been reporting missing. Birhamani has reported on the forced marriage and conversion of Hindu girls in Sindh which is why, his cousin Shah Mohammed Birhamani believes, he was targeted. Shah Mohammed Birhamani claims that the police arrested two men soon after his murder but that they were refusing to investigate the case any further because prominent locals were involved.
According to research done by the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 15 journalists have been targeted and killed since 2002 and the only case which reached the courts was the murder of The Wall Street Journal newsman Daniel Pearl.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2011.