Seven years ago, on August 28, 2014, three media workers — ARY News Assignment Editor and Online News Agency Bureau Chief Irshad Mastoi, a trainee reporter Abdul Rasool Khajjak and Online News Agency accountant Muhammad Younas — were murdered by unidentified gunmen in Quetta, the capital city of the Balochistan province.
The case has currently been closed after two of the accused were reportedly killed in a police encounter. However, Mastoi’s family is seeking the support of media bodies for a reinvestigation.
On the fateful day, Mastoi, Khajjak and Younas were working in the office in Quetta when two armed men with 9mm pistols barged into the office for the Online News Agency and shot them several times.
Khajjak and Younas died on the spot while Mastoi was injured and died en route to the Civil Hospital. Initial examination had shown that the media workers suffered bullet wounds in the chest and head.
Khajjak was a final year student of Mass Communication at Balochistan University. He had completed a three-month internship in the news agency and was working as a reporter. Younas was serving as an accountant in the news agency for a number of years.
Mastoi’s colleagues had believed he was murdered because of his article on the eve of Baloch leader Nawaz Akbar Bugti’s eighth death anniversary. Some of his close friends, however, suspected the involvement of a politico-sectarian party in his killing because he did not publicize the party’s press releases and statements.
On September 29, 2014, then Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti announced the formation of a tribunal of enquiry consisting of Justice Muhammad Hashim Kakar of the Balochistan High Court (BHC). The commission report was sent to both the provincial chief minister and the chief secretary but it had not been public at the time. Nearly a year later, on September 2, 2015, Bugti announced the arrest of two suspects — Shafqat Ali Rodani (alias Naveed) and Ibrahim Nachari (alias Shah Jee) — and presented them before the media. The minister had said that the accused were affiliated with the separatist militant group, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA).
According to the government, the accused were not only responsible for murdering Mastoi and his colleagues but were also involved in thirty bomb explosions and a series of targeted killings in Quetta and other parts of the province. A videotape of the confession of the accused was also played at a news conference.
Local journalists in Balochistan, however, had pointed out a number of serious contradictions in the confessions of the accused that cast doubt on the authenticity of their statements.
On October 13, 2015, an investigation team of the Quetta police force raided the houses of the militants (Rodani and Nachar) in the Mustang district and both the accused were killed in the encounter.
Mastoi’s family did not believe they were the actual killers. According to Mastoi’s cousin, Sarang Mastoi, the government had ended the case by killing the militants who were not implicated in the murder.
Speaking to PPF in 2021, Mastoi’s brother Ashfaq Ahmed said that Mastoi had never discussed threats with the family but after he was murdered, journalists had told the family that Mastori was receiving threats from different militant groups because of his stories.
Ahmed said the case had been closed after the death of both the accused, adding that they were seeking the support of journalists’ bodies for a reinvestigation into the case.
Then Online News Agency Managing Editor Abdul Khaliq said that Mastoi had received threats from different groups and those behind the attack wanted to kill him, not the others due to his stories. Khaliq said that Younas and Khajjak were also killed because they were together at the time of the incident.
Khaliq said that the three had died in the line of duty and it was unfortunate that the case had not been investigated properly.
“No serious action [was taken by] the government for justice,” he said.
Head Moharar Bijli Police Station Azmatullah told PPF that on March 24, 2016, the Anti Terrorism Court 1 Quetta (ATC-1) had ordered freezing the case as two of the accused — Shaqat Ali and Muhammad Ibrahim — were killed in a police encounter and a third accused Suhail Marri was untraced.
Former Balochistan Union of Journalists President Irfan Saeed said that police had arrested two individuals and later declared that they were members of the BLA.
“This raised confusion as police first arrested them, then declared that the accused were killed in an encounter,” he said, adding that the BUJ, Quetta Press Club and families of the deceased had sought reinvestigation of the case but this was not done.
“The gruesome attack saddened all the journalists. I don’t have the words to express my grief,” he said.
Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists President Shehzada Zulfiqar told PPF that after pressure from journalists’ bodies then Home Minister of Balochistan Sarfaraz Bugti had the arrest of two suspects and presented them before the media. But, he said, the statements of arrest of the accused were confusing and they had demanded to meet them. However, three to four days later, the police announced their death in an encounter. Zulfiqar called on the government to lift the confusion caused by the contradictory confession statements by ordering a reinvestigation into the case. He also called on the government to create a safe environment for journalists.
Pakistan Press Foundation.