A historic verdict for which many lost their lives

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By: Umar Cheema and Usman Manzoor

ISLAMABAD: As the Anti-Terrorism Court in Kandhkot announced its verdict on Saturday handing death sentence to two killers of Geo TV reporter Wali Khan Babar and life imprisonment for another four, it turned out to be a historic judgment.

There is good news: Babar’s case is the first where killers of a Pakistani journalist have been prosecuted and the murderers brought to justice, something that never happened before.

However, this tortuous journey has come to an end leaving dead nine policemen, prosecutors and witnesses in the case who were eliminated one by one by the killers of Babar, in order to escape the long arm of the law. This tragic end of these brave individuals is a damning indictment of our criminal justice system where helping others in getting justice is not possible without taking fatal risk.

Though the killers of brave Wali Khan Babar have been convicted by the court but the provision of justice to the families of so many others who were killed following the Babar’s killing in order to ensure the safety of real planners and handlers is still awaited.

As many as 77 journalists and media workers have been killed since 1992, according to New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a watchdog organization that work on the safety of journalists and struggle for ending the culture of impunity. The motive was confirmed at least in cases of 53 journalists that they were murdered in direct reprisal of their professional work.

Nevertheless, their killers operate with impunity and the government functionaries only issued condemning statements instead of nabbing the culprits. Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal’s reporter was mutilated by militants in Karachi. His killers were apprehended and sentenced only under Washington’s pressure. The government never showed due diligence in cases of Pakistani journalists.

However, the outcome of Babar’s case is radical departure from the past practices. Not only some accused were arrested and prosecuted, they have been awarded sentence. But this entire exercise didn’t complete without taking another nine lives during the course of investigation raising serious question marks about the state’s apathy towards the witnesses, investigators and prosecutors who risked their personal safety for others.

For beginners, Babar was murdered on January 13, 2011, on his way home from Geo TV office in Karachi. Police started investigation and the killers reacted for cowing investigators into silence. As many as five policemen and witnesses were eliminated during the initial phase.

Let me chronicle this: Rajab Bengali, a citizen who helped police in recovering the vehicle used in killed Babar, was murdered on 16 days later, January 29, 2011. His dead body wrapped in a bag was found from Gulshan-e-Iqbal Karachi.

Asif Rafiq, a police constable who had noted registration number of the vehicle used in the incident, was gunned down on January 31, 2011, two-day after Rajab Bengali’s murder. Another policeman, Arshad Kundi, who helped in recovering the car used in carrying out Bengali’s murder, was killed on March 20, 2011.

Likewise, 85-day after the murder of Babar, a police inspector, Shafique Tanoli, who had arrested five accused in Babar’s case, lost his brother to the killers. Naveed Tanoli was killed in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Karachi on April 7, 2011. Another policeman who was associated with Shafiq Tanoli was also gunned down. The suspected killers apprehended by SHO Shafique Tanoli were:Faisal Nafsiyati, Tahir Naveed alias Polka, Shah Rukh alias Mani, Muhammad Ali Rizvi and Shakil Malik. (Four of them were awarded life sentence and Shakeel was set free due to want of evidence. Two proclaimed offenders: Kamran alias Zeeshan and Faisal Mota were handed death sentence)

Haider Ali alias Saleem, an important witness of Babar’s case who had volunteered recognizing the suspect killers during an identity parade was gunned down at his home in Soldier Bazar Karachi on November 11, 2012.

Panicked by the systematic killings of policemen and witnesses as well as threats from the killers, Arshad Iqbal Cheema, a lawyer in Babar’s case, disassociated himself and fled abroad. Two other lawyers, Muhammad Khan Barurro and Mubashar Mirza also rescued themselves from the case.

Then a lawyer, Naimat Ali Randhawa, agreed to follow the case on repeated requests of Babar’s family only to be murdered on September 26, 2013.

Seven killings sparked disproportionate panic, as nobody was ready to play any role in bringing the killers to justice forcing the government to request the transfer of case from Karachi to interior Sindh (Kandhkot) that was done on November 8, 2013.

However, it didn’t see any let up in attacks. Karachi residence of Abdul Maroof, special prosecutor appointed in Babar’s case, was attacked on November 21, 2013. However, he got a narrow escape. A month later on December 20, 2013, inspector Shafique Tanoli (key police officer involved in Babar’s murder probe) was attacked with bombs near PIB Colony Karachi.

He was injured along with 28 other persons but two of his colleagues were killed.

As the case was shifted to Kandhkot, it was decided to conduct hearing inside the premises of Shikarpur prison due to security reasons. Nevertheless, hearing was to be adjourned many a time due to the non-appearance of the counsel of suspect killers, Salman Mujahid Baloch.

Despite all odds, Saturday turned out to be a historic day when the murderers of a journalist have been brought to justice.

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