A prominent Pakistani investigative journalist critical of the country’s powerful military has been killed in Kenya nearly two months after he left Pakistan.
“I lost friend, husband and my favourite journalist today, as per police he was shot in Kenya,” Javeria Siddique tweeted about her husband Arshad Sharif’s death on Sunday night.
The 49-year-old journalist fled the country in August to avoid arrest after he was slapped with multiple cases, including sedition charges over an interview with Shahbaz Gill – a close aide of former prime minister Imran Khan – during which Gill made comments deemed offensive to the military.
Alleging harassment by state institutions as well threats to his life he moved to Dubai in August and later relocated to Kenya.
The channel ARY for which Sharif worked for the last eight years was briefly taken off air in August for airing “false, hateful and seditious” content. The channel announced late August it was parting ways with the journalist, who was one of its top prime-time news anchors.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “sadness” at Arshad Sharif’s death, adding in the statement said that they were in touch with Kenyan officials regarding the matter.
The ministry confirmed that Pakistan’s envoy to Kenya along with embassy officials had identified the body at the Chiromo Funeral House in Nairobi and are now awaiting further procedures and a police report.
“The High Commission will facilitate expeditious repatriation of mortal remains of Mr. Sharif in coordination with the host authorities,” the statement read.
Kenyan media has quoted local police officials who said the shooting was a case of “mistaken identity”.
Confirming the incident, Bruno Shioso, spokesman for Kenya’s National Police Service, told Al Jazeera that local authorities are currently investigating the murder.
“Our competent authorities are currently investigating and can’t comment further than that at present. We shall also issue a preliminary statement in due course,” he said.
Kenyan newspaper The Star reported that the car in which Sharif was travelling was fired upon after it failed to stop at a roadblock on the Nairobi-Magadi highway.
The Islamabad High Court has issued notice to authorities to present them with a report regarding the circumstances of the death at the earliest.
Sharif, who was once considered close to Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, turned into a fierce critic after the removal of former Prime Minister Khan’s government in April.
Shocked at the brutal murder of Arshad Sharif who paid the ultimate price for speaking the truth – his life. He had to leave the country & be in hiding abroad but he continued to speak the truth on social media, exposing the powerful. Today the entire nation mourns his death.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) October 24, 2022
Demand for inquiry
After the news of Sharif’s death emerged on social media early on Monday, condolences poured in from all quarters.
Pakistan President Arif Alvi, who awarded Sharif with one of Pakistan’s top civilian awards in 2019, tweeted his condolences and said his death was a great loss to journalism and Pakistan.
Shehbaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister, also expressed his shock at the death of the journalist.
“I am deeply saddened by the shocking news of journalist Arshad Sharif’s tragic death. May Allah SWT grant him a place in Heaven. My deep condolences and prayers for the bereaved family,” he tweeted on Monday morning.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan demanded an immediate inquiry into Sharif’s death.
“A long, grim record of violent tactics to silence journalists explains why the reported murder of journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya has sent shock waves through the journalist community. The government must pursue an immediate, transparent inquiry into the circumstances of his death,” the organisation said in a statement.
Pakistan has a history of media suppression and violence against journalists.
Last month the United States expressed its concern over press freedoms in Pakistan after Pakistani authorities in August briefly blocked the coverage of ARY, which is seen as sympathetic to former PM Khan.