KARACHI: Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) on March 1, 2014 awarded the death sentences to two persons and life imprisonment to four in the murder case of Wali Khan Babar reporter of Geo television network. The two awarded death sentences are fugitives while four are in custody. Babar was killed in Karachi on January 13, 2011 by unidentified men as he was returning home from work.
This is the first conviction for the murder of a Pakistani journalist and it came at a heavy price. Five witnesses to the murder and one prosecutor were also murdered as the case was being investigated and tried. Because of threats to the lives of investigators, witnesses and prosecutors the provincial government of Sindh had requested the Sindh High Court to transfer the case from Karachi to a another city, Kandkot, and transferred the accused to Shikarpur prison, where the sentenced were announced.
ATC judge Mushtaq Ahmed Leghari awarded death sentences to Kamran alias Zeeshan and Faisal Mota, and life imprisonment to Faisal Mehmood alias Nafsiyati, Naveed alias Polka, Muhammad Ali Rizvi and Shahrukh alias Mani. Accused Muhammed Shakil Malik was acquitted.
Talking to Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF), Murtaza Khan Babar, brother of Wali Khan Babar welcomed the conviction and hoped that it would lessen the climate of fear for journalists and should be a warning to those who try to suppress the voices of the people. He added that though important, the conviction by the Anti-Terrorism court was just the first step and stressed the need to stand firm as the case move through the appeals processes.
Afzal Butt, President Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists welcomed the court decision and termed it a good omen for the media community as this was the first time that a judgment had been announced in a case.
The Pakistan Coalition on Media Safety (PCOMS) also welcomed the conviction and said although scores of journalists have been murdered over the last decade, the only other case that resulted in a conviction was that of Daniel Pearl, reporter of the Wall Street Journal. PCOMS expressed the hope that these convictions would mark a turning point in the climate of impunity that exists for those who attack journalists and media organizations. PCOMS reiterated the demand for the appointment of a special prosecutor on violence against media and urged the governments to reopen all inactive cases of journalists who have been targeted and murdered.