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Pakistan Urged to Probe Killing of Journalist

Pakistani journalist Ajay Kumar Lalwani is seen in an undated photo from social media.

A global media watchdog is demanding authorities in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province urgently conduct a “credible” investigation and arrest those responsible for this week’s killing of a journalist.

Police and witnesses said Ajay Kumar Lalwani, 31, was sitting in a barbershop in the province’s Sukkur city on Wednesday evening when unknown assailants riding a motorcycle and a car with four passengers opened fire on him.

Lalwani, a local general news correspondent for a privately owned Urdu language newspaper, suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died in a hospital late Thursday.

“Police in Sindh province must waste no time investigating the killing of journalist Ajay Lalwani and apprehending those responsible,” said Steven Butler of the New York-based advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement.

The Sukkur police Friday announced the formation of a team to investigate the killing, but no progress has been reported.

Police officials insisted it was not immediately known if Lalwani was killed because of his journalistic work, saying they were in the process of collecting evidence and recording statements from witnesses to ascertain the cause of the crime.

“It’s critical that the investigation be led by officers who are able to maintain public confidence, given the long the history of tensions between local journalists and the police in Sukkur,” said Butler, CPJ’s Asia program director.

The CPJ quoted Ashiq Jatoi, editor of the Daily Puchano, which the slain reporter worked for, as telling the watchdog he believed that Lalwani’s killing was related to his professional duties. He cited past threats against the journalist but did not elaborate further.

Jatoi also cast doubt on the impartiality of the investigative team, citing a history of tension between police and journalists in Sukkur.

The CPJ noted in its statement that journalists in Sukkur have repeatedly held demonstrations against the city police to protest the filing of anti-state charges against journalists who report on alleged corruption. In some cases, police resorted to violence to suppress the protest campaign, it said.

Last year, at least two journalists were kidnapped and murdered in Sindh. Their employers and families complained the reporters were killed for exposing alleged links between local police and drug traffickers, and for documenting corrupt practices of the provincial government in their reports.

Despite repeated public pledges to punish the perpetrators, the Sindh government to date has not reported any progress in those investigations.

Pakistan has long been considered a dangerous place for journalists, according to CPJ, and those involved in attacks on journalists are rarely punished.

In 2020, the South Asian nation ranked ninth on the CPJ’s annual Global Impunity Index, which assesses countries where journalists are regularly killed and their killers go free, with 15 unresolved murders.