New team to probe journalist’s killing in Kenya

— Five-member panel includes officials from intelligence and police

ISLAMABAD: The government has set up a new, specialised team to investigate the killing of Arshad Sharif, the prominent investigative journalist who was shot dead in Kenya, the Supreme Court was informed on Thursday.

Sharif, 50, a fierce critic of the military, died in a suspected police shooting near Kenya’s capital Nairobi on October 24, which triggered condemnations and calls for an independent probe.

Nairobi police later expressed regret over the incident, claiming it was a case of “mistaken identity” during a search for a similar car involved in a child abduction case.

However, an initial probe revealed the killing was a “planned assassination,” a team of investigators said in a report released Wednesday. The Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) has also cast doubt over the police’s version of events.

After it read the contents of the report, the chief justice of Pakistan ordered the government of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) to notify the panel by Thursday and investigate the event afresh, 43 days after the grisly assassination.

During the proceedings, Aamir Rehman, additional attorney general (AAG), presented to the court the notification announcing the formation of a five-member team.

He said the team consisted of five members: Sajid Kiani from Intelligence Bureau, Waqar ud-Din Syed from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Murtaza Afzal from Military Intelligence, Muhammad Aslam from Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and Awais Ahmed from Islamabad police.

The court was further informed that if necessary, authorities would contact Interpol to arrest the suspects in the case.

Rehman said the team was launching the investigation immediately and would first record the statement of the slain anchorperson’s mother who has, in a letter to the chief justice, accused top military brass of “planning” the killing.

“The JIT will probe all the relevant persons in Pakistan and then start investigations in Kenya,” he added.

The official, when asked how long it would take the team to conclude its investigation, replied the investigation would be dependent on the government of Kenya. He, however, added the team would make all possible efforts to complete its task at the earliest.

The court then directed the team to submit a progress report to the court every two weeks. In addition, the Islamabad police were directed to cooperate with the team.

Sharif fled Pakistan in August — first to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and later to the East African nation — after over a dozen sedition cases were registered against him for allegedly criticising institutions and “abetting mutiny” within the army.

His employer, ARY News, had fired him in August, claiming the journalist had violated its social media policy, without specifically mentioning the post. His political chat show, Powerplay, which aired on Mondays and Thursdays, was also discontinued.

Sharif’s family, his friends and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, including its chairman Imran Khan, have demanded a fair investigation into the murder. They claimed he was forced to leave the Sheikhdom at the request of the Foreign Office, a claim the Foreign Office categorically dismissed.

Last week, Imran Riaz Khan, senior journalist and Sharif’s colleague, launched a “Write Letter To Chief Justice” campaign, eliciting a massive response from across the nation, with people sending letters to the top judge, urging him to investigate the grisly murder.

Joining the campaign, Khan also penned a letter to the chief justice, requesting him to conduct an independent judicial inquiry into the matter.

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