The Supreme Court was informed on Monday that Kenyan authorities were not granting access to the team investigating the murder of journalist Arshad Sharif, who was shot dead last year.
The remarks came as the apex court resumed hearing the suo motu notice of the murder. A five-member bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, Justice Jamal Mandokhel, Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi and Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar, heard the case.
At the previous hearing, the top court had asked investigators to discuss with the foreign ministry the possibility of involving the United Nations in the murder probe.
It had also said that the court would not interfere in the investigation. “The court is giving freedom to the JIT for probe and the matter should be investigated transparently as the court is very serious about transparent investigations,” the bench had said. Earlier, a 592-page fact-finding report furnished before the court concluded that the murder was a “planned targeted assassination” that purportedly involved “transnational characters”. The investigators also contested the version put forth by the Kenyan police that Mr Sharif’s killing was a “case of mistaken identity”.
At the outset of today’s hearing, Additional Attorney General (AAG) Aamir Rehman told the court that two reports on Sharif’s murder had been submitted in court, one by the Foreign Office and the other by the special joint investigation team (SJIT).
He said that the Kenyan authorities had accepted Pakistan’s request for mutual cooperation in the investigation. “Kenyan authorities have started taking legal action against the two police officials who opened fire at Arshad Sharif’s car.”
However, JIT chief Owais Ahmed said the investigation team had not yet received any material related to Sharif’s murder. “Kenyan officials are not granting us full access needed for the investigation,” he told the court.
At that, AAG Rehman also said that Kenyan authorities had not yet given Pakistan complete access to the crime site. “They have only expressed agreement over mutual legal cooperation.”
Upon hearing this, Justice Naqvi said: “Tell the court clearly whether you have found strong evidence from the investigation conducted in Kenya or not.”
The JIT chief responded that the team was “in contact” with the Kenyan and UAE authorities. He added that the JIT had met doctors and police officials in Kenya, while the UAE officials had yet not allowed the team to conduct an investigation there.
At that, Justice Bandial said that Kenya was a sovereign country and “we should not blame anyone”.
“We have to instead see if the SJIT has correctly conducted investigations in Kenya and UAE,” the top judge remarked, adding that it was yet to be seen if the team was even ready for the investigation.
The CJP pointed out that “mistakes were made both in Pakistan and abroad” in the case.
“Why and on whose directions was the fact-finding committee’s report released,” he asked, observing that the report’s release had alerted the suspects.
“Did the SJIT conduct an inquiry on all the points presented in the fact-finding committee’s report? Which foreign agencies have the SJIT requested cooperation from,” Justice Bandial further inquired.
“There is a mess up between contacting Kenya and going there,” he said, adding that it was the Foreign Office’s responsibility to investigate this.
“Something happened after the fact-finding committee’s report was released because of which Kenya is not cooperating anymore,” he noted.
Meanwhile, Justice Mazhar observed that the Kenyan foreign minister had assured the Foreign Office of cooperation. “Then why was the special JIT not allowed to go to the murder site?
“The same story is being told to us from the first day,” the judge said.
Here, AAG Rehman stated that it was important to maintain diplomatic relations with Kenya. “This matter is complicated,” he said.
On the other hand, Justice Ahsan said that there were three aspects to Sharif’s murder. “Who forced him to leave Pakistan? Was an inquiry initiated on who registered cases against Sharif? What was he shown that forced him to leave?
“When all these links are connected, you will automatically find out who wanted to get rid of Arshad Sharif,” he added.
The AAG informed the court that those who filed cases against Sharif were being investigated. “The names of some government officers came forth, they were also investigated,” he said. “Can’t say anything about who was behind registering cases against Arshad Sharif.”
At this, Justice Naqvi warned the AAG to not “play with the court”. “This was the first stage [of investigation] which could not be completed,” the judge said. “Did the JIT go to have fun in Kenya and UAE?”
Meanwhile, Justice Ahsan inquired about the whereabouts of Sharif’s mobile phone and other belongings.
“His mobile and Ipad are with Kenya’s IT department,” the JIT head replied, adding that the rest of his belongings had been received.
Here, Justice Naqvi asked where the other JIT members were to which Ahmed replied that three of them were present in court.
“Why did the rest of the members not come? Is it not the investigation team’s duty to be present [in court],” Justice Naqvi stated.
Justice Naqvi also questioned why the statements of Khurram and Waqar, who were present with Sharif, were not recorded.
The AAG said Kenyan authorities only permitted the JIT to meet the public prosecutor director. “Kenyan authorities assured us of cooperation but did not let us visit the site of the incident.”
Justice Naqvi then asked why Pakistani authorities were not seeking help from the United Nations. At this, the AAG replied that Kenya was a friendly country and had supported Pakistan on every international forum.
“We do not want to take a step where we lose bilateral and global cooperation,” he said. “For now, the need to seek the UN’s help hadn’t arisen.”
At one point, the chief justice said the JIT would have to look into how the case is moving forward. “Who was bearing Arshad Sharif’s expenses and why?” he asked.
He further said that the Pakistan embassy should also seek help from lawyers and journalists in Nairobi. He advised the authorities concerned to try getting their hands on the Kenyan investigation report into the matter.
The CJP directed the foreign ministry to find out why Kenyan authorities had initially announced to cooperate but had then backtracked. The hearing was subsequently adjourned till the first week of March.
Sharif had left Pakistan in August last year after a number of cases were registered against him. It was reported that he was initially staying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after which he went to Kenya, where he was shot dead.
Initially, Kenyan media had quoted the local police as saying Sharif was shot dead by police in a case of “mistaken identity”.
But later reports from the Kenyan media reconstructed the events surrounding the killing, stating that an occupant in Sharif’s car at the time of his killing was believed to have shot at paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) officers.
The Pakistan government subsequently formed a team that travelled to Kenya to investigate the killing.