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Shan Dahar: A family's fight for justice

On 1 January 2014, Pakistani journalist Shan Dahar was shot by armed men and taken to a local hospital where he remained unattended until he succumbed to his injuries. More than two years later, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Zakir Ali – also known as Shan Dahar – was Bureau Chief of Abb Takk Television channel in Larkana district of Sindh province, Pakistan. Shan was shot in the back at 12:30am on 1 January 2014 and taken to Chandka Medical College Hospital (CMCH), where he remained unattended until he succumbed to his injuries in the morning, nine hours later.

The local police, in an investigation that his family believes to be flawed and motivated, declared the death an accident that resulted from celebratory shooting on New Year's Eve. However, the family believes he was targeted because of his stories on the illicit sale of medicine donated by NGOs in local hospitals. The media community in Pakistan likewise believes that the killing was retribution for his journalistic work. Shan was working on a number of incendiary stories at the time and had received threats prior to the shooting.

In the nine hours that he spent at CMCH, Shan managed to inform his friends and family by telephone that Amir Zehri and Irfan Zehri were the individuals that gunned him down. However, neither man is currently being investigated for the crime of murder; instead they are facing trial in absentia after absconding from judgment.

IFEX member the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) successfully advocated with the family of Shan Dahar to have the case re-investigated as an intentional killing, based on evidence that refutes the claim of an accidental death and points to a possible cover-up by local officials. PPF is currently working with the family and other stakeholders to ensure the new investigation leads to the identification and prosecution of those responsible for Shan's death. Impunity in Pakistan is rampant, as evidenced by PPF's findings that of the 72 cases of killing of media practitioners since 2002, there have been convictions in only three cases.

Key Actors

Amir Zehri and Irfan Zehri (pictured), are the brothers who have been accused of killing Shan Dahar. According to Shan’s sister Fouzia Sultana, they were identified by Shan as his assailants in the final hours before his death, but were not arrested. They are currently facing trial in absentia for charges that presume the death to be an accident. Family members allege that the accused are roaming freely in the city, but the police have made no serious attempts to arrest them.

Khadim Rind, the Deputy Inspector General of Police in Larkana established a committee to investigate the killing that also includes Inspector Murtaza Kaloro, Assistant Superintendent of Police Inspector; Sajid Khokhar, and several Deputy Superintendents of Police.

Babu Iqbal, President of Larkana Press Club and correspondent of ARY News, has been supporting Shan Dahar’s family with legal matters and has lobbied the local administration and police to re-investigate Dahar’s killing.

Qazi Shahid Pervez, Home Secretary who directed the Inspector General of Police Sindh to order a reinvestigation of the case and appoint an independent investigative team. Soon after, the investigation was transferred to a new jurisdiction under Senior Superintendent of Police Dadu, Shabbir Ahmed Sethar.

Pakistan Press Foundation, a local civil society group and IFEX member working closely with the family of Shan Dahar to ensure the new investigation is conducted fairly and transparently and that the perpetrators are brought to justice. PPF awarded Dahar’s family with the PPF Press Freedom Award on 3 May 2014 in support of their efforts to find justice for Shan’s death.

The Media Legal Defense Initiative is a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing legal defense to journalists, bloggers and independent media and has been working directly with the family of Shan Dahar to provide them with local legal representation for Shan’s case.

Timeline of Events

Threats against Dahar

On 25 December 2013, Dahar files a complaint with Station House Officer of Badah police station, Shah Jahan Jhakrani about threats he had been receiving because of his work. After Shan’s murder, the book containing his complaints mysteriously disappears. The above video was recorded by Shan Dahar during his journalistic investigations in 2013 and allegedly depicts the illicit transaction of medicine donated by a local NGO.

Struck down during News Years celebrations

In the early hours of 1 January 2014, Shan Dahar is shot multiple times by assailants he would later identify to be brothers Irfan and Amir Zehri. Shan is rushed to the hospital, but dies 9 hours later without receiving treatment for his injuries.

Government seeks report

Chief Minister of Sindh Province, Syed Qaim Ali Shah asks the Sindh Inspector General (IG) of Police to submit a report on the incident within three days. Larkana Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police constitutes a five-member committee, headed by Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP), Sajid Khokhar to investigate the killing. The investigation declares the attack on Dahar was not targeted, but a result of stray firing during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Promises of financial support

The Chief Minister announces the government will begin to provide free education to the two daughters of the slain journalist, citing humanitarian reasons. The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) also provided monthly financial assistance to the family of Dahar for two years. The last payment was received in May 2017.

Protest Demonstrations

After the killing of Dahar, journalists hold demonstrations in Sindh province to protest the doctors’ negligence and to demand the killers’ arrest and further compensation of the bereaved family.

Application to Reinvestigate

Riaz Hussain Khushk, brother-in-law of Dahar submits a request to the DIG of Sindh Police on 24 February 2014 to reinvestigate the case, as the First Information Report was registered under the Pakistani legal code for murder but investigated as a killing that occurs by any “rash or negligent act”.

Letter Written to IG Police Sindh

On 2 April 2014, the local NGO Madadgaar National Helpline writes a letter to the Inspector General (IG) of Sindh Police urging him to reinvestigate the killing of Dahar. On 7 April, Dahar’s sister Fouzia Sultana also writes to the IG Sindh police to request a reinvestigation of her brother’s murder.

Two Doctors Suspended

As the result of an investigatory committee established by the medical superintendent of CMCH, on 12 May, Chief Secretary of Sindh Province, Sajjad Saleem Hotiana suspended Dr. Abdul Ghaffar Kandhro, the doctor in charge of the Rural Health Center, Badah and Dr Ali Gohar Chandio, Senior Medical Officer at CMCH’s Larkana Surgery Department for negligence in treating Shan Dahar.

Dahar’s Case Submitted in Court

In November 2015, the Larkana police submit the case to the court of the District and Sessions Judge Larkana under section 319, killed by a stray bullet. This decision is made in spite of Dahar’s statement that he was deliberately targeted by the Zehri brothers.

Legal Assistance Sought

In February 2016, Fouzia Sultana contacts MLDI seeking assistance with legal representation. Karachi-based Advocate Abdullah Nizamani agrees to take on their case with MLDI’s support.

Application for Reinvestigation Filed

On 11 April, Fouzia Sultana along with Babu Iqbal, President of Larkana press club and other local journalists met Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Larkana, Abdullah Shaikh and submitted an application for re-investigation of Shan Dahar's case. On 19 April, the DIG issued written orders for re-investigation of the case and assembled a team that consists of Tauqeer Naeem, Superintendent of Police (SP); Yar Muahmmad Rind, Inspector; Shabir Ahmed Shaikh, Inspector and Sajjad Ahmed Bhatti, Assistant Superintendent of Police.

Reinvestigation of Case Begins

On 23 April, SP Tauqeer Naeem visited the crime scene along with his investigative team. Naeem took a statement from Shan’s brother Riaz Khuskh and assured the family that justice would be served under his watch.

Legal representation withdrawn

On 6 May, Abdullah Nizamani withdraws his support to Shan Dahar’s case, citing the great distance between Karachi and Larkana. On 9 May, Fouzia Sultana contacts MLDI to help her in arranging the support of a Larkana-based lawyer.

Independent investigation resumes

On 19 May, a delegation consisting of the Pakistan Press Foundation and Dahar’s sister Fouzia Sultana met the Secretary of Home Department Sindh, Mr. Qazi Shahid Pervez to request a renewed and fully independent reinvestigation and punishment of the perpetrators. On his orders, the investigation was transferred to a new jurisdiction under Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Dadu, Hyderabad Range, Shabbir Ahmed Sethar.



Sethar’s Investigation Report

According to unconfirmed information, Sethar submitted a report to the Inspector General of Sindh Police in the month of July. Although the police have yet to provide a copy of the report to the family, it is believed that it confirms the police’s negligence in the initial investigation, as well as mishandling of evidence.

What IFEX Members Are Doing

The Pakistan Press Foundation is working with the family of Shan Dahar, as well as other local and international stakeholders to have the case re-investigated. PPF seeks to promote a free and independent media in Pakistan and routinely documents and condemns violations against the press.

Bytes 4 All Pakistan has offered its support as part of its mandate to advocate for free expression in South Asia. Bytes 4 All Pakistan focuses on the use of Information and Communication Technologies for strengthening development and human rights in Pakistan and beyond.

The Committee to Protect Journalists has joined Shan Dahar's family in advocating for his case. In 2014 CPJ sent a delegation to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to secure commitments to combat threats facing journalists in Pakistan. Shan Dahar's death was highlighted in the 2015 Impunity Index.

More Resources & Information

Caught between the state and extremists: Country profile of Pakistan

Asia & Pacific 27 August 2017

Why is Pakistan one of the most dangerous environments in the world for journalists and human rights defenders?

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