The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) acknowledged the pivotal significance of the judgement of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorist Court this week when it handed down the country’s first successful prosecution over the killing of a Pakistani journalist.
The Court’s decision on March 2 marks only the second time in Pakistan’s history that the murderers of a journalist have been brought to justice. The first was American journalist Daniel Pearl’s killer, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, in 2002.
The IFJ welcomes the judgment, which strikes a blow against the disturbing and entrenched environment of impunity for journalists’ killers in Pakistan, but also calls for the two death sentences handed down in the trial to be reconsidered in line with the position of most IFJ affiliated unions that capital punishment is incompatible with human rights and human dignity.
Wali Khan Babar of GEO TV was gunned down in Liaquatabad area of Karachi on January 13, 2011, as he was returning home from his office. He was 28. His family and friends continue to mourn his loss.
The Wali Babar case was heard by the Anti-Terrorist Court of Shikarpur district in Sind province, inside Shakarpur jail, after a series of deadly incidents surrounding the case. Babar’s lawyer Nemat Ali Randhwa was shot dead in September 2013 and the PFUJ and the Express Tribune have reported that an investigation officer and four other officers connected to the case were also murdered during the investigation.
“The struggle of PFUJ has borne fruit,” the PFUJ said this week, welcoming the judgement. “It has not been for a long time that the killers of a Pakistani journalist have been arrested and punished.”
Judge Mushtaq Ahmed Leghari brought down life imprisonment sentences on Naveed Polka, Muhammad Ali Rizvi, Faisal Mahmood, and Mohammad Shahrukh Khan and gave death sentences to two others – Kamran (alias "Zeeshan") and Faisal Mota, who are yet to be arrested.
A moratorium on the death penalty was called by former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in 2008 but this decree was rescinded by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2013. Daniel Pearl’s killer was given the death penalty in 2002, but he remains on death row.
“Daniel Pearl’s killer was sentenced in 2002, Babar’s in 2014. We will not wait another 12 years for the next journalist killer to be brought to justice,” the PFUJ said.
The IFJ hopes that this decision marks a turning point for the judicial system in Pakistan after years of inaction from authorities in investigating and prosecuting the killers of journalists. Last year, Pakistan was the most deadly country for journalists in the Asia-Pacific region with ten media workers killed – the highest in the Asia-Pacific region. Already in 2014, six journalists have been killed – including Reuters photographer Abrar Tanoli who was shot and killed in Mamsehra earlier this week.
On March 4, the PFUJ staged protests across Pakistan to protest the murder of Abrar Tanoli and to stand in solidarity with the family of Wali Khan Babar.
"Wali Khan Babar was a young journalist whose life was cut tragically short. Babar’s story is one that has become all too familiar in Pakistan,” the IFJ said.
“The conviction of his killers is a major achievement in a long campaign by the PFUJ and Pakistan’s media. It was won through their determination and commitment and actioned by a legal system that has clearly committed itself to achieving justice.”
“We commend the victory, but the battle must continue for the countless other murdered journalists for whom justice has been denied. The killers and masterminds who remain at large must be found."
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