Pakistani authorities are failing to protect human rights defenders, Amnesty International said today following the killing of a prominent activist.
Khurram Zaki, a human rights defender and former journalist, was gunned down at a restaurant in Karachi on May 8, 2016.
“As a human rights defender, Khurram Zaki, who was known to face threats from violent groups, deserved protection from those who meant him harm,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.
“Pakistani authorities must immediately initiate a thorough, impartial and effective investigation into his murder and bring his killers to justice.”
Zaki’s death comes as human rights defenders across Pakistan were marking the anniversaries of the killings of activist Sabeen Mahmud, who was shot dead in Karachi on April 24, 2015, and lawyer Rashid Rahman, who was killed at his office in Multan on May 7, 2014.
Violent groups that have targeted religious minorities had repeatedly threatened Zaki’s life for his vocal campaigning against sectarian killings in Pakistan. Zaki’s friends have filed a police report asking authorities to specifically investigate two groups they believe are involved in the murder.
“These three murders of well-known human rights defenders in as many years are just a few examples that raise serious questions about the Pakistani authorities’ failure to tackle violent groups who brazenly declare their intention to silence those who criticize them,” said Patel.
“The Pakistan government has vowed to bring violent groups to justice but we are instead seeing that many of these groups continue to carry out grave abuses with impunity while human rights defenders go without protection and NGOs face increasing intimidation.”
Four gunmen riding two motorcycles opened fire on Zaki and two friends while they were sitting outside a restaurant in north Karachi. Zaki was killed and his two friends were injured in the attack.
Zaki was a prominent human rights defender who had campaigned for the arrest of Maulana Abdul Aziz of Islamabad’s Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) after the cleric refused to condemn the Taliban’s attack on a school in Peshawar in December 2014 that killed at least 142 people – including 132 children.Other human rights defenders who campaigned alongside Zaki were subject to chilling threats, including from the Taliban, for seeking Maulana Abdul Aziz’s arrest.
In September 2015, Ghulam Abbas, Sabeen Mahmud’s driver and the sole witness of her murder was killed in Karachi despite the Sindh Witness Protection Act 2013 that was passed to protect witnesses.Raja Umer Khattab, a Counter-Terrorism Department official, told Dawn newspaper that Abbas “was an important witness of the case and his murder underlines the urgency of protecting the remaining witnesses.”
No arrests have been made for the murder of Rashid Rehman, a respected human rights lawyer who faced several threats for defending a man accused of committing blasphemy. In January 2016, Rehman’s sister, Lubna Nadeem, told Pakistan’s Senate Committee for Human Rights: “I have still not gotten justice for my brother.”