Islamabad, Pakistan – The police killing of a man in Karachi has sparked a social media outcry, as his family members reject claims by authorities that he was a member of the Pakistan Taliban, saying he was an innocent aspiring male model.
Police fatally shot Naqeebullah Mehsud, 27, during a raid on what they described as a “terrorist hideout” in eastern Karachi last week, according to a police statement.
He was buried in his native town of Makin, in the South Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan, on Friday, family members told Al Jazeera.
So-called “encounter killings” are common in Pakistan. Rights groups say when police lack enough evidence for a court conviction, they extrajudicially kill suspects.
In 2016, police said they had killed at least 318 suspects during raids and shootouts in Karachi, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HCRP), an independent rights organisation.
“Some men in plainclothes came and abducted him from a restaurant in Karachi on January 3 [10 days before police said he was killed],” said Alamgir Mehsud, Naqeebullah’s cousin. “Then on January 16, we were told that he had been killed by police. We got his body back the next day.”
Naqeebullah, also known as Naseemullah, ran a popular Facebook page where he posted pictures of himself modelling clothes and hairstyles.
“He used to work in a garment mill in Karachi, and he used that money to fund his modelling,” said Alamgir. “He was a sort of idol to young people from the Mehsud tribe in Karachi.”
By late December, Naqeebullah‘s page had more than 14,000 followers, and he often posted light-hearted messages.
On September 16, he posted a warning to young people not to engage in the “Blue Whale Challenge”, a reported social media campaign that encouraged self-harm.
Social media users used the hashtag #JusticeForNaqib to post messages of solidarity with his family, pictures of him modelling and to demand the police be held to account.
Protests have been held against his killing in Karachi and the northwestern city of Peshawar.
‘Hardened Taliban member’
Police say Naqeebullah was a hardened member of the Pakistan Taliban, who had taken part in several operations targeting security personnel.
According to a police profile that led to the raid, he carried out attacks on military convoys, police personnel and suspected military informers.
A native of Makin, once known as the nerve centre of the Pakistan Taliban, Naqeebullah often travelled between Karachi and the tribal district, Alamgir said.
He denied, however, that Naqeebullah or any other members had associated with Pakistan Taliban members, beyond what was necessary for survival.
“Frankly, the government’s writ had fallen there [in 2007], and the Taliban were in power,” he said. “We would go to them for justice or to settle disputes. It would be a lie for me to say that we did not do it [but] he never associated with them for any kind of militant activity.”
Naqeebullah would have been 18 when the government re-established control over South Waziristan in a military operation in 2009.
Rights groups demand investigation
Rights groups have called for an independent investigation, rejecting the government’s appointment on Thursday of a three-member police inquiry team to investigate the charges.
“Their own force is responsible for this, so how can they investigate it freely?” said Mehdi Hasan, the chairperson of the HRCP. “It needs to be done by an independent body.”
“We have never seen investigations like this show wrongdoing on the part of the police.”
According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, there were more than 2,000 encounter killings across Pakistan in 2015, with the practice considered to be “routine”.
“Several police officers who spoke to Human Rights Watch openly admitted to the practice of false or faked ‘encounter killings’, in which police stage an armed exchange to kill an individual already in custody,” the report said.
— BilawalBhuttoZardari (@BBhuttoZardari) January 18, 2018
On Thursday, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which controls the provincial government for Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, called for an investigation into the killing.
Family members, however, are demanding more be done.
“This is just one man, he has been killed,” said Alamgir, Naqeebullah‘s cousin. “But who knows how many other Naqeebs there are out there? If someone has committed a crime, there are laws, take him to court, prove the cases and then give him the punishment. No one will stop you.
“But this is not the way.”
Here are some of the ways people reacted on social media:
Politician Imran Khan called the killing “utterly condemnable”.
Punjab police's brutal "encounters" are well documented. Sindh's highly politicised police is no better. Today SP (Rao Anwar) killed a boy named Naqeeb ullah Mehsud in Karachi. He had been picked by police on 7 Jan & today he was killed in an "encounter". Utterly condemnable
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 18, 2018
Mohsin Dawar questioned why the authorities did not move against Naqeebullah earlier if they had considered him a “terrorist”.
Just a question from Rao Anwar.
If Naqeeb Mehsud was a terrorist than why did Pak Army issued him a Watan Card which is only issued to those IDP’s who has no connection with terrorists in the Army Record ?
— Mohsin Dawar (@mjdawar) January 18, 2018
Aliya Kareem shared a video showing Naqeebullah enjoying a dance with a friend.
Abdul Majeed Khan, who tweets at @koolkopper, said Naqeebullah “looks to be a normal young man. His merciless killing needs to be probed”.
Naqeeb Mehsud an alleged terrorist who was killed by Karachi Police in a staged encounter doesn’t look to be terrorist by an any standard.A terrorist doesn’t post pictures of his kids & friends on media. He looks to be a normal young man. His merciless killing needs to be probed.
— Abdul Majeed Khan Marwat (@koolkopper) January 18, 2018
Bilal Farooqi, a journalist, said the killing demonstrated how Pashtuns are randomly “killed by corrupt cops”.
This innocent young man, Naqeebullah Mehsud, fond of taking selfies, was abducted in Sohrab Goth Karachi & killed by LEAs in a fake encounter. Pakhtuns r randomly picked up there & killed by corrupt cops like SSP Rao Anwaar who claim they've killed Taliban #JusticeForNaqeebMehsud pic.twitter.com/u2t2Q83bP3
— Bilal Farooqi (@bilalfqi) January 18, 2018
Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim