Outrage After Dissident Pakistani Journalist Shot Dead In Kenya

Protests, outrage, and condemnations are rampant across Pakistan as journalist Arshad Sharif’s body is brought back from Kenya, where he was shot dead by Kenyan security forces in an apparent case of mistaken identity. Thousands of Pakistanis were present at his funeral at the Faisal Mosque in  Islamabad, with Al-Jazeera reporting that many carried flags for former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and shouted slogans like, “Arshad, your blood will usher in revolution!”

Khan himself told the Daily Times Sharif was a “patriot who never compromised his conscience,” saying “if the nation does not stand for him, there will be no difference between us and animals.”

Pakistan’s current administration, including President Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (no relation to Arshad Sharif), expressed their condolences over the killing. According to the Pakistani news organization Dawn, on Monday the government approved the creation of a three-person commission to investigate the details of Sharif’s death, with the announcement saying Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif sanctioned the commission himself.

Authorities in Kenya claim Sharif refused to stop at a roadblock intended to catch an at-large kidnapper, whose car they say was similar to Sharif’s, prompting their response. Kenyan police are now promising that the Kenyan Independent Policing Oversight Authority will conduct a full investigation.

Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, with watchdog NGO the Committee to Protect Journalists ranking them 9th in the world in their 2021 Global Impunity Index, ahead of countries like Russia. Sharif was a figure close to former PM Khan, hiding in Kenya after speaking out against Shehbaz Sharif’s Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party and the Pakistani military. Many in Pakistan feel his death was a political assassination, not an accident as authorities suggest.

Al-Jazeera quoted several mourners in attendance at Sharif’s funeral, including Qaiser Mustafa, who said Sharif, “was courageous and honest and somebody who was able to speak truth to power, and they decided to silence him.” Mustafa continued, “We have a romance with the military, and people trust them…But after April, everything changed. We realized that we are being played. We all make mistakes and learn from them, and perhaps Arshad also learned and evolved his views.”

Sharif’s death comes as Pakistan is facing dual crises in the form of a struggling economy and a bitterly polarized political struggle between former PM Imran Khan and the current government. Khan was ousted from power earlier this year following a no-confidence vote and has since been highly critical of the government of Shehbaz Sharif that replaced him, accusing Sharif of conspiring with the US and the military to remove him. On the 21st, Khan was barred by the Pakistani electoral commission from holding office for five years, but a week later he announced a march from the city of Lahore to the capital Islamabad to demand snap elections, which otherwise wouldn’t be held until next year.

With painful economic woes fueling unrest and Khan publicly pitting himself against the current government, Arshad Sharif’s death will only inflame tensions along Pakistan’s delicate political fault lines. A swift and transparent investigation by both the Kenyan and Pakistani governments may be a necessary first step in uncovering the actual circumstances behind Sharif’s death so the people of Pakistan can begin to trust their government once again. But with the backdrop of Khan’s antigovernment rhetoric, the killing will almost certainly remain politicized long after the investigations conclude their findings.