Khurrum Zaki, a civil rights activist and digital media campaigner known for his firm and consistent struggle for the rights of Pakistan’s diverse religious and ethnic groups, was shot and killed by unidentified men in Karachi on May 7.
He was at a small restaurant in north Karachi’s Abbasi Chowk locality (in Sector 11/B) with his friends Khalid Rao and Jazib Qamar when four gunmen riding motorcycles shot at him and fled. Khurram Zaki was taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, but the ECG machine wasn’t working. “By the time we got him to Aga Khan Hospital, he had no heartbeat and had lost too much blood,” Jazib Qamar told reporters. He was also wounded in the drive-by shooting.
“In this day and age of Takfiri Deobandi/Wahabi terrorism and Islamophobia, London has risen above discrimination and bigotry and emerged as great centre of human civilization setting a great example for the world,” Khurram Zaki said in his last Facebook post, referring to British politician Sadiq Khan’s election as London’s first Muslim mayor. “Can we ever elect an Ahmadi or Hindu or Christian PM?”
Zaki’s widow told reporters that her husband had received threats, and intelligence agencies had also warned him about threats to his security. “Our family faces intimidation, but we are not being provided security.” Muqaddas Haider, the SSP of Karachi’s central district, said no such information had been shared with the police.
His son Ali said Khurram Zaki had told his family to name Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqi, the chief of the group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, and Maulana Abul Aziz, the chief cleric at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, in the first information report if he were assassinated.
Jibran Nasir, another civil rights activist who had co-organized protests with his comrade against the ASWJ and Lal Masjid, confirmed he had been threatened.
Karachi’s Sir Syed Police Station registered an FIR under sections 302 (premeditated murder), 324 (attempted murder), 109 (abetment) and 34 (common intention) of the Pakistan Penal Code read with Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. Jazib Qamar was the complainant. The two men named by Khurram Zaki have been nominated in the report. They could not be reached for comment. Police say naming them as abettors would not be enough to get them arrested.
“Farooqi and Aziz have been nominated under Section 109, so the police can’t arrest them until the key suspects testify their involvement,” the SSP told me.
Investigators believe the attackers had Khurram Zaki under surveillance for about a month, and had been seen visiting that restaurant. No arrests had been made until the filing of this report.
Jibran Nasir said Khalid Rao, who was also wounded in the attack, had told a mutual friend about “suspicious movements” in the area a week before the incident. Rao had suggested hiring guards or carrying licensed weapons for protection, but Khurram Zaki had declined.
Extremist groups closely monitor digital media
The recent assassinations of activists Sabeen Mahmud, Rashid Rahman, and Aneeqa Naz had already raised concerns about the security of civil rights campaigners in the country. These and the murders of liberal bloggers in Bangladesh are seen as a sign that activists are more and more vulnerable as violent extremist groups closely follow digital media.
“I have restricted my movement,” said Jibran Nasir, who spoke at Khurram Zaki’s funeral. Shia Safety, an organization led by Seerat Abbas Zaidi, released a video asking people not to share photos of the funeral on the internet until all those attending were back home safe.
In a phone call to Reuters, Qari Saifullah – a spokesman for the Shehreyar Mehsud group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan – claimed responsibility for the assassination. The reason, he said, was Khurram Zaki’s stance against Abdul Aziz. Raja Umer Khattab, an officer from the Counter-Terrorism Department who had interrogated key suspects in Sabeen Mehmud’s murder, said they had also cited her opposition to the cleric as one of the reasons behind her killing.
The claim by the TTP is not being bought by many, because of past evidence of false claims, seemingly to protect local sectarian leaders and groups.
“It was a focused and targeted killing by those who have been hurt by Khurram Zaki’s work,” Jibran Nasir believes.