Impunity looms one year after Arshad Sharif’s murder in Kenya
After investigating the circumstances of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif’s murder in Kenya one year ago, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuses the authorities in both countries of duplicity. What with opaque or misleading investigations, a lack of cooperation and failure to arrest suspects, everyone is trying to protect their interests at the expense of the truth about Sharif’s death and justice for his family.
Pakistan’s supreme court seems to have given up. After quickly taking responsibility for the Pakistani side of the investigation into Arshad Sharif’s murder in Kenya on 23 October 2022, in order to facilitate a case made complex by its transnational nature, Pakistan’s highest court has not held a single hearing on the subject since 3 June.
Officially, the lack of a mutual legal assistance agreement between the two countries is the cause of the blockage. Kenya has not transmitted the evidence it has gathered. Unofficially, “this situation benefits both countries, neither of whom is really willing to get to the bottom of this,” said a source familiar with the case who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. During the past year, the various investigations have been marked by opaqueness and by sometimes crude attempts to steer them down false paths, as RSF observed in the course of its own investigation.
“A year after Arshad Sharif’s murder, no suspect has been arrested and no instigator has been identified. Kenya is protecting its police officers and Pakistan is deliberately steering clear of the possibility that its security services were involved. Without an independent international investigation, as we are requesting, this journalist’s murder is liable to remain unpunished.
Sharif was one of the star presenters on Pakistan’s ARY News TV channel, where he was an outspoken critic of military influence in Pakistani politics. He fled to Dubai and from Dubai to Kenya because he feared arrest or the possibility of being murdered. He had received several death threats and around ten judicial complaints had been brought against him, including an accusation of “spreading hate against the military and the state’s institutions.”
After keeping a low profile since arriving in Nairobi, Sharif attended a barbecue near a ranch two hours from the capital on 23 October 2022. The ranch is owned by Waqar Ahmed, a Pakistani who has lived for a long time in Kenya and who had taken care of Sharif since his arrival. Sharif left the barbecue at around 8:30 p.m. accompanied by Khuram Ahmed, the host’s brother. As the car drove towards the main road leading to the capital, Kenyan police fired several shots at it, two of which were fatal for Sharif, as several autopsies confirmed.
Kenyan investigation minimises police responsibility
The Kenyan authorities initially blamed the shooting on a “case of mistaken identity.” Their claim that the police had installed a roadblock where the shooting took place in order to intercept a stolen vehicle has no credibility. RSF saw a photo of the stolen vehicle in a Nairobi police station. It was a white Mercedes Sprinter 311 CDI, a utility-type van. It is hard to imagine that the police could have confused it with the Toyota Land Cruiser in which Sharif was travelling. Furthermore, as RSF was able to observe at the site, the Land Cruiser was heading in the opposite direction to the one that the stolen vehicle should have been taking.
This absurd account caused an outcry. The Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA), which polices the Kenyan police, reported a few days later that the police officers involved had said in their statements that they fired on the Land Cruiser in response to shots coming from it. But nothing in the car or at the location indicated that Sharif or his companion were armed. No bullet cartridges were found at the roadblock. But the Kenyan police took the trouble to collect their own, which is very suspicious considering that the car they just fired on had refused to stop.
The IPOA’s final report has never been released. The Kenyan investigation seems to have come to a complete halt. In March 2023, a member of the IPOA told RSF that “it’s likely that our recommendations will include sanctions and prosecution” for the four police officers involved. Meanwhile, they continue to be free and are probably still in active service.
Through but slanted investigation in Pakistan
The investigations in Pakistan have also suffered from attempts to steer them down avenues designed to protect the interests of the country’s security forces. A joint team consisting of the head of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which reports to Pakistan’s interior ministry, and the deputy chief of the Intelligence Bureau (the civilian counter-espionage agency), was sent to Kenya five days after Sharif’s murder. They produced a very detailed report nearly 600 pages long a few weeks later but it focused mainly on criticising the Kenyan investigation. Whereas it dismissed the possibility of a “case of mistaken identity”, it concluded to a “planned targeted assassination with transnational characters” which was largely based on speculation rather than substantial findings.
The report only very briefly considered the possible involvement of members of the Pakistani security services although they were behind the threats that led Sharif to flee Pakistan. Meanwhile, it portrayed Waqar Ahmed, rather vaguely, as a “key figure” in the case and seemed to suggest he was a suspect because of his connections, in particular with the Kenyan intelligence services. But the report did not identify any serious motive for Ahmed. And several circumstances contradict the hypothesis of a “planned assassination” involving this “key figure.” They include the presence of many witnesses at the barbecue hosted by Ahmed, two sources who confirmed to RSF that the journalist left the ranch alive, and photos of the journalist’s body taken quickly by Ahmed himself once the Land Cruiser had reached a nearby location.
At this stage, it is unlikely that the investigations in Pakistan and Kenya will solve this murder. The lawyer representing Sharif’s wife is now asking the United Nations to support his attempt to force Kenya to cooperate more effectively with Pakistan. But in response to the prospect of having to follow proceedings that would take place partly in Kenya, the Pakistani prosecutor said at the last hearing on 3 June that Pakistan could not afford to spend “a million dollars" on a lawyer in Kenya. But Sharif’s wife has already filed a lawsuit in Kenya and engaged a lawyer who is costing one fiftieth of that amount, as her Pakistani lawyer pointed out.