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Gianluca Costantini
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Justice for Arshad Sharif

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Mr António Guterres, Secretary General, the United Nations

Ms. Amina J. Mohammed,  Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations

Mr Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr Federico Villegas, President, UN Human Rights Council

Your excellencies,

We, the undersigned, are urgently requesting an inquiry into the murder of prominent Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif on October 23, 2022. Arshad was one of Pakistan’s leading investigative journalists, writers and television news anchors, and recipient of several national and international awards for outstanding reporting on public policy, political accountability and governance, and issues of human rights, and social justice. He won several accolades for reporting from war stricken and high conflict zones. His TV programme Power Play on ARY News has a following of thousands of viewers across the globe.  

On August 10, 2022, Arshad was forced to flee Pakistan after being accused of sedition charges by the current Pakistani government of Mian Mohammad Shehbaz Sharif in response to an interview he had conducted with a member of former prime minister Imran Khan’s political party. Prior to leaving Pakistan, Arshad had received several death threats and had written a letter to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 12, 2022 claiming that his life was in danger. 

Upon not receiving the necessary protection, he had to flee the country on a 30-day tourist visa to the United Arab Emirates, where he stayed in Dubai for 10 days before his visa was canceled by UAE officials on the orders of the Pakistani government. 

He then traveled to Kenya, one of the few countries where someone with a Pakistani passport can receive a visa quickly. He lived in hiding in Kenya for two months, but continued to remain active on his Twitter and social media page. According to news reports, he was in the process of making a documentary exposing corruption among Pakistan’s political elites. 

He was shot on a dirt road while riding as a passenger in a moving vehicle near Nairobi at around 10pm on Oct 23, 2022. The driver of the vehicle remained unscathed. The Kenyan police have provided varying testimonies on the shooting, citing a case of ‘mistaken identity’ where Arshad’s car resembled another stolen car with a kidnapped child. The Kenyan police then changed the narrative of the shooting to one of self-defense, claiming that shots had been fired from Arshad’s car and they had to retaliate to protect themselves.

However, there is no evidence that either Arshad or the driver were armed. Photographic evidence shows that the two cars (the car Arshad was in and the allegedly stolen vehicle) and their number plates were not the same. Moreover, it is also questionable why the police did not immobilize the car by shooting the car’s tyres, why they shot the passenger and not the driver if supposedly the driver was driving away with the stolen car.

Additionally, it has been questioned by the international media and the public as to why police would shoot at a car with a suspected child inside. Arshad’s autopsy report reveals signs of torture including missing fingernails from four fingers, a black eye and wounds on his neck, chest, back and ankles in addition to broken ribs and bullet wound in his skull. 

We believe that Arshad Sharif was the victim of a targeted killing. Similar to the fate of the late journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it is believed that Arshad was ordered to be killed by Pakistani government officials whose corruption Arshad had exposed through his investigative journalism. Moreover, despite a popular national letterwriting campaign where thousands of Pakistani citizens wrote letters to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan demanding a probe into Arshad’s death, there has been nothing but silence. If there is any hope for action, it is now through the international community.

To date there are many questions that remain unknown about Arshad’s death:

  • We do not know the identity of the police officers who fired the fatal shots that killed Arshad.
  • We want to know who has possession over Arshad’s belongings after his death, namely his phone and laptop?
  • Who were the UAE officials that visited Arshad in his hotel in Dubai and asked him to leave the country?  
  • From whom did the UAE officials receive orders to terminate Arshad’s visa?
  • Who were the two brothers Khurram and Waqar Ahmed who were supposedly taking care of Arshad while he was in Kenya? How did he come into contact with them? What was their connection, if any, to Pakistani government officials and to those who killed Ashraf?
  • What were the 12 different charges of sedition against Arshad in Pakistan and which individuals or parties were responsible for them?
  • Who were the people or agencies that threatened Arshad with death while he was in Pakistan?
  • Who are the people or agencies responsible for Arshad’s murder?

Arshad’s family, friends, as well as members of the Pakistani and international public have been severely distressed as they are not getting the answers they need despite calling upon the Pakistani government and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Over 40,000 people attended Arshad’s funeral services. Clearly, he had a large following and was loved by many.

While the current government of Mr Mian Shehbaz Sharif has put together a two-member team from Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to investigate his murder, it is crucial that a non-partisan third party such as the United Nations conduct an inquiry into the matter to find out to determine a fair and balanced investigative outcome.

Arshad’s death not only represents the reality of brutal human rights violations in Pakistan, but also symbolizes the vulnerability of journalists who risk their lives to question the status quo and report on state abuse of power. Pakistan ranks 157 out of 180 countries in terms of the World Press Freedom Index, and the murder of prominent journalists like Arshad Sharif and many others further highlights the everyday threat to freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Pakistan. 

The UN is expected to uphold and protect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which mandates that human rights situations in countries and territories be examined, monitored and publicly reported.

We demand that the UN conduct an independent investigative inquiry into the assassination of Arshad Sharif. 

Your excellencies, the world is watching your action or non action on this brutal human rights violation. Your silence symbolizes the demise of the human rights charter and endorses the silencing of free speech and press not only in Pakistan, but also globally. 

We hope you will not forsake us.

Thank you.

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