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Kenya court finds killing of Pakistani news anchor unlawful

July 8, 2024

A Kenyan court ruled that the police had used lethal force by killing the journalist. Arshad Sharif had escaped Pakistan after his interview with a politician stirred controversy.

Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif poses for a photograph at the set of his talk show in Islamabad in 2016
Senior Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif left Pakistan to avoid arrest on charges of criticizing his country's powerful militaryImage: AP/picture alliance

In a landmark ruling on Monday, a Kenyan court found that police had acted unlawfully in using lethal force against a Pakistani journalist in 2022.

Two years ago, Pakistani news anchor Arshad Sharif was shot in the headafter police opened fire on his car. Authorities claimed that the killing was a case of mistaken identity.

"The use of lethal force against Sharif by shooting him in the head was unlawful and unconstitutional," Judge Stella Mutuku ruled.

The High Court in Kajiado, a town south of Nairobi, also rejected the police claim that the killing was a case of mistaken identity and that officers believed they were firing on a stolen vehicle involved in an abduction.

Sharif's widow, Javeria Siddique, who launched the complaint, welcomed finally getting "justice" in the long-running case.

The wooden coffin containing the body of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif, who was shot dead by the police hunting car thieves
The killing of Sharif sparked anger in Pakistan and there were allegations that it was orchestrated by the Pakistani military Image: Thomas Mukoya/REUTERS

Kenyan government to pay $78,000 in compensation

Siddique and two journalist groups in Kenya filed a complaint last year against top police and legal officials over the "arbitrary and unlawful killing" of Sharif and the  "consequent failure to investigate" by the Kenyan authorities.

This ruling is a "great precedent for police accountability," Siddique's lawyer Ochiel Dudley told the AFP news agency. The judge found "Kenya violated Arshad Sharif's right to life, dignity, and freedom from torture, cruel, and degrading treatment," he said.

As compensation, the Kenyan government must pay 10 million Kenyan Shillings ($78,000, €72,000) to the victim's family, the court ruling said.

However, the court approved the state's request to delay the compensation decision for 30 days, giving them time to file an appeal.

Government violated rights by not prosecuting officers

According to the court authorities, a Kenyan governmental institution called the "Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Independent Policing Oversight Authority," had violated Sharif's rights by not prosecuting the two officers involved, Dudley added.

"I find that the respondents, jointly and severally through their actions violated the rights of the petitioners," Mutuku said, according to The Nation newspaper.

In her ruling, Judge Mutuku ordered Kenya's legal and police authorities to conclude their investigations into the case. These respondents must "take responsible actions, including to punish and prosecute police officers who killed Arshad Sharif, if found culpable," she said.

'Court's verdict is justified,' Kenyan expert tells DW

"Given the circumstances of the police shooting, the court's verdict is justified," Kenyan security expert Dominic Wabala told DW.

"On that day, the police received a call about a carjacking in Nairobi. The vehicle reported stolen had started to drive outside of Nairobi, whereas Sharif's car was driving in to Nairobi. Besides, the stolen vehicle did not match the journalist's car," Wabala said.

The police shot without confirming whether they had the right car at all, he added.

Police brutality common in Kenya

Police in Kenya are often accused by rights groups of using excessive force and carrying out unlawful killings.

"There have been numerous reports of excessive force, extrajudicial killings and abuses by the police. Which highlight the need for reforms and stronger oversight mechanisms," President of Pupils in the Office of the Attorney General and Department of Justice Mulongo Francis told DW.

Recently, at least 39 protesters were killed demonstrating against the controversial proposed tax hikes in Kenya.

Are Kenyan anti-tax protests being hijacked by 'criminals?'

"Young, non-armed, peaceful protesters in Kenya were harrassed, beaten and even shot by the police. In order to justify brutal force, the police hired goons to make the protesters look bad," security expert Wabala said.

Press freedom in Pakistan faces all time low

Sharif was a staunch critic of Pakistan's powerful military and ruling elites. He was a vocal supporter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is imprisoned in Pakistan.

Sharif had to flee Pakistan in 2022, days after he interviewed a senior opposition politician who said junior officers in Pakistan's military should disobey orders that went against "the will of the majority."

Pakistan's military has dominated its social and political system for decades. Any criticism of the military is not tolerated and journalists often face dire consequences. 

Recently, a Pakistani journalist and video blogger Asad Ali Toor was arrested by the police. He was charged with orchestrating a malicious campaign against the state and its officials, with the “objective to coerce, intimidate, and incite violence” against them through his social media platforms, Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera reported.

Pakistan is ranked 152 out of 180 countries in a press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, with journalists facing censorship and intimidation.

Plaintiff doubtful of justice in Pakistan

Siddique, who followed the trial from Islamabad in Pakistan, expressed gratitude over the court's decision. "I cannot fully express my emotions, and I cannot bring Arshad back. However, I have set a precedent that those who kill a journalist cannot escape justice," the 36-year-old told AFP.    

"In my country today, there is no press freedom whatsoever," said Siddique, adding that she was "not optimistic" about receiving justice in Pakistan.

In regards to the Kenyan court ruling, she said: "I finally feel that some form of justice has been achieved."

This report used material from AP and AFP news agencies

Edited by: Wesley Dockery