Unsolved murder of Arshad Sharif : UN urges Pakistan and Kenya take appropriate actions

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an independent international investigation into a Pakistani journalist’s murder in Kenya in October 2022 after two UN special rapporteurs wrote to the Pakistani and Kenyan governments deploring their failure to cooperate and conduct any serious investigation.

The tone of the letters that the two UN special rapporteurs – on the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and on arbitrary, summary and extrajudicial executions – sent to Pakistan and Kenya on 5 October is unrelenting. They meticulously list the events preceding the death of Arshad Sharif, the Pakistani journalist who was shot dead by police in Kenya on 23 October 2022, two months after fleeing there following death threats and a series judicial complaints against him in Pakistan.

“The letters from the UN experts are unequivocal. There has been a clear lack of will on the part of both Kenya and Pakistan to establish the precise circumstances of this journalist’s murder and identify those responsible. At this stage, the preliminary investigation in Kenya has been botched and the investigation by the Pakistani security services has been very one-sided. In view of the presumed involvement of the security forces of both countries in this murder, only an independent international investigation would be able to establish the facts. This is what RSF fervently seeks.

Arnaud Froger
head of RSF’s investigation desk

The rapporteurs note that Sharif, an Ary News TV anchor who was a fierce critic of corruption in Pakistan and the military's sway over its civilian governments, had been the target of 16 complaints (eight according to Pakistan) since a change of government in April 2022. They also point to the letter that Sharif wrote to the Chief of Justice of Pakistan three months after the change of government reporting death threats against him – a letter that remained unanswered.

“It seems that nothing was done to investigate these claims and to safeguard Mr. Arshad Sharif’s life,” the rapporteurs say.

Fearing for his life, Sharif finally fled Pakistan on 10 August 2022 and arrived in Kenya ten days later, after a brief stay in the United Arab Emirates, which he was forced to abandon in haste after Pakistan’s Army Major General visited the country, the UN rapporteurs note.

On the evening of 23 October, Sharif’s car was riddled with bullets by Kenyan police officers who had set up a roadblock for unclear reasons. There is no indication that these police officers were arrested or even sanctioned, and the final report by the Kenyan police in charge of the investigation was never released.

Like RSF in its own investigation, the rapporteurs deplore the many inconsistencies and biases in the Kenyan and Pakistani investigations, and the lack of cooperation between the two countries in their desultory efforts to identify those responsible.

"International law requires that the investigation be prompt, effective and thorough, independent and impartial, and transparent, and the preliminary investigation seems to satisfy none of these elements,” the rapporteurs point out. 

Pakistan sought Interpol red notice for Sharif’s hosts in Kenya

In a reply on 2 December, which RSF has seen, Pakistan’s permanent representation in Geneva says a second team was appointed to investigate the murder and is still working on the case. The Pakistani letter says this team has already submitted five reports to the supreme court despite encountering difficulties, particularly in accessing the crime scene in Kenya.

The letter also says the Pakistani citizens who hosted Sharif during his stay in Kenya are regarded as the “prime suspects” by this second team of investigators and that, on 19 May,  Pakistan asked Interpol to issue a Red Notice for their arrest although they had not yet been thoroughly investigated.

The first Pakistani investigative report already described Waqar Ahmed, the person who had been hosting Sharif for several weeks in Kenya, as a “central character” in the murder, without explaining what role he might have played in the fatal shooting, or what his motive might have been.

At the end of its own investigation, RSF deplored the fact that the Pakistani authorities had favoured this hypothesis without any supporting evidence, and completely ignored the possible involvement of members of the Pakistani security services who were behind the threats that led Sharif to flee Pakistan.

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