Officials in Pakistan say a plane carrying “the mortal remains” of a renowned investigative journalist who was killed by police in Kenya is scheduled to reach Islamabad late Tuesday as calls intensify for both nations to fully investigate the incident.
Arshad Sharif, 50, had taken refuge in the east African nation after fleeing Pakistan in August, complaining of death threats, and a government crackdown on journalists, including cases on controversial sedition charges.
Sharif was being driven back to the capital, Nairobi, on Sunday night from the Magadi area when he was fatally shot in the head by police at a roadblock after his driver allegedly breached the barrier set up to intercept a stolen vehicle.
The award-winning reporter’s death shocked and outraged people in Pakistan where he was a household name for hosting the popular political talk show “Power Play” for years on the private ARY news channel. He often aired reports critical of the government as well as the powerful military, focusing on official corruption.
The Nairobi police service on Monday said it “regrets the unfortunate incident” and promised “appropriate action” after concluding an investigation. It noted, however, that the shooting was being treated as a case of mistaken identity.
Kenyan journalists reporting on the incident questioned the police claims, asking why the officers manning the roadblock did not target the driver and instead hit Sharif in the head, killing him. The four-wheel drive Toyota carrying the slain Pakistani was fired on at least nine times. A postmortem exercise established that Sharif had a head bullet wound and bled to death.
US, UN call for probe
The United States and the United Nations have also joined calls by human rights groups and media freedom advocates for an independent and transparent inquiry into the deadly shooting, including the circumstances that forced Sharif to flee Pakistan.
“We’re deeply saddened by the death of Arshad Sharif. We encourage a full investigation by the Government of Kenya into his death,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington.
“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. And it’s clear through his work that Arshad Sharif was dedicated to that fundamental right of freedom of expression,” Price said.
He noted that the Pakistani reporter’s work was known around the world.
“I think the circumstances need to be investigated thoroughly, and the Kenyan authorities said they would and, I think, the results of the investigation being shared quickly,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told a news conference in New York.
Pakistan’s government and military lately have faced increasing criticism for allegedly stifling media freedom and political dissent, charges officials reject as unfounded.
On Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (no relation to the reporter) tweeted that he would form “a Judicial Commission to hold an inquiry into the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif in order to determine the facts of the tragic incident in a transparent & conclusive manner.”
The announcement came shortly after sources confirmed that the Pakistani military had also written a letter to the federal government, calling for an inquiry into the reporter’s death.
“A long, grim record of violent tactics to silence journalists explain why the reported murder of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya has sent shock waves through the journalist community,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said in a statement on Monday.
The Asia branch of U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was saddened by the journalist’s death.
“CPJ is seeking further details about the incident. There must be a swift and transparent investigation by authorities into his death, and authorities must release the full details as soon as possible,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.
France-based Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, condemned Sharif’s murder as gruesome and utterly disturbing.
“The killing of Arshad Sharif… is all the more baffling since he had just left his home country to Kenya in order to escape harassment and arrest. In May, he was charged with “spreading hate against the military,” the global watchdog said.
International watchdogs list Pakistan among countries deemed as the most dangerous for journalists.