On 19 April 2016 Sindh Police announced they would reopen the investigation of the killing of Abb Takk Television journalist Shan Dahar at the urging of his family and local press groups, including IFEX member the Pakistan Press Foundation. A year later the investigation remains at a stand still, while threats against the family hint at efforts to obstruct progress. Shan Dahar’s story is an emblematic case for the IFEX No Impunity campaign 19 April 2017
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
President Mamnoon Hussain
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah
Governor of Sindh Muhammad Zubair Umar
Inspector General of Sindh Police Allah Dino Khawaja
IFEX, the global network of 110 organisations promoting and defending freedom of expression worldwide, writes to you on the occasion of the one year anniversary of the reinvestigation into the killing of AbbTakk television journalist Zakir Ali alias Shan Dahar, which occurred on 1 January 2014.
We are concerned with the fact that since the opening of the reinvestigation, little progress has been made and justice for Shan Dahar’s killing is no closer than when the investigation first launched. On the contrary, efforts to discover the true circumstances of the journalist’s death seem to have ground to a halt, while actions aimed at obstructing the investigation have increased.
Accordingly, the IFEX network calls on the relevant Pakistani authorities to ensure that the investigation is promptly restarted and conducted according to internationally recognised standards of transparency and impartiality.
Pakistan has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Local IFEX member Pakistan Press Foundation has noted that since 2002, 73 journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty. Of these cases, only 5 have concluded with a conviction.
Crimes against journalists are particularly problematic, as they have a ripple effect that extends beyond silencing the individual, to suppressing societal truths essential for an informed citizenry and a healthy democracy. While some tentatively positive steps have been taken in recent years, including naming Pakistan as a pilot country for the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and the draft bill for Journalists’ Protection and Welfare, the fact remains that the vast majority of these cases have gone unpunished.
This impunity perpetuates the cycle of threats, violence and intimidation in Pakistan and creates an environment where accountability for the perpetrators, as well as corrupt officials and private actors exposed by adversarial reporting, is absent. As a result, freedom of expression is restricted and the rule of law suffers.
The case of Shan Dahar provides Pakistan with a chance to change this bleak record and start holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Shan’s family members and local media groups have highlighted compelling evidence that his death was more than a mere accident, and likely a targeted killing linked to his journalistic reporting on the illicit sale of donated medicine in Larkana district. Additionally, there are indications that the initial investigation, which found Shan’s death to be accidental, was flawed and may have been influenced by external forces.
Recent events seem to confirm that powerful individuals may be actively seeking to ensure that the investigation does not progress. Of particular concern is the fact that the family of Shan Dahar has reported experiencing threats and harassment aimed at intimidating them from pursuing Shan’s case. The sister of Shan Dahar, Fauzia Sultana has also highlighted with irony that, “The police officer who conducted [the] flawed inquiry was appointed for reinvestigation and our concerns turned true when even after one year, no concrete report has been prepared or shared with us.”
Given these circumstances, we call on the relevant Pakistani authorities to resume the investigation and ensure that it is conducted in a thorough and impartial manner, free from outside influence. In addition, we request that they investigate any individuals responsible for the obstruction of justice, including those that threaten and harass concerned journalists, activists and the victim’s family members.
Such measures are the explicit responsibility of state authorities and have been reiterated in multiple UN resolutions, most recently in the Human Rights Council Resolution on the Safety of Journalists (A/HRC/33/L.6), passed in September 2016. The same resolution recommends a number of best practices for combatting impunity. Pakistan would be well served to take these into consideration to address this endemic issue in the country.
On the anniversary of the reinvestigation, we again urge officials to make this pursuit of justice an urgent priority for Sindh Police. The family of Shan Dahar deserves long-awaited answers and the cycle of impunity for the killings of journalists in Pakistan must come to an end.