Pakistan must investigate killing of activist, says rights group


Pakistani authorities should conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the killing of human rights activist Khurram Zaki, who had been publicly critical of extremist cleric Abdul Aziz (above) and militant sectarian groups, and appropriately prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said today:

On May 7, 2016, four unidentified gunmen opened fire on Zaki at a restaurant in Karachi, killing him and wounding two others. Zaki had been receiving threats and had confided to friends that he was on several militant “hitlists.”

The Hakeemullah group, a relatively unknown faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the murder in a phone call to Reuters, saying that Zaki was targeted because of his stance against Abdul Aziz. …The authorities have accused Abdul Aziz of abducting Chinese nationals working in Pakistan, inciting supporters to commit violence against state functionaries, targeting security officials, and extending support to the extremist group Islamic State, known as ISIS. ASWJ, previously Sipah-i-Sahaba, which was banned after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US, is accused of carrying out attacks and inciting violence against members of the Shia community, attacking government and civilian installations, and attacking the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.

Zaki (right) had been leading a public campaign against Abdul Aziz and militant sectarian organizations. He had filed a police complaint against Abdul Aziz for inciting violence against Shia and was a vocal critic of ASWJ and LeJ.

“A thorough and impartial investigation with proper witness protections is absolutely critical to ensure those responsible for Khurram Zaki’s death are brought to justice,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s appalling that activists who are at the forefront of opposing violence by militant groups should themselves become targets.”

Raza Rumi, a Pakistani political analyst and activist, who moved to the US after an assassination attempt in 2014, said the murder sent a chilling message.

“Being an activist in Pakistan is highly risky, as the state has yet to eliminate the sectarian militias that kill with impunity,” said Rumi, a visiting fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

The Pakistani government has failed to take a clear stand against intimidation and violence by militant groups or defend the right to freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch added:

On April 25, Pakistani authorities banned “Among the Believers,” an internationally screened and award-winning documentary about the Red Mosque in Islamabad and the radicalization of students studying in the seminary. They said, “the film projects a negative image of Pakistan in the context of ongoing fight against extremism and terrorism.” ….On April 21, the authorities also banned another documentary film, Besieged in Quetta, about the violence against the Hazara Shia community in Quetta.


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