South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Very similar to Mumbai, Karachi was always known as the city where most liberals of Pakistan resided. Karachi had modern character and was a melting pot. But today Karachi is fast losing its sheen and becoming a centre of violent attacks. It’s almost on the brink! One more human rights activist was shot dead in Pakistan’s Karachi days ago.

Four suspects riding on two motorcycles opened fire on Khurram Zaki (40) when he was having dinner with his journalist friend Rao Khalid in a restaurant on May 7. Zaki died on the spot and Rao Khalid and a bystander, Aslam were critically injured. Rao Khalid is now better. The killings go on in Karachi. In fact, the financial capital of Pakistan has become a dangerous place for people who are opposing religious extremism. A year ago well-known human rights activist Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead in Karachi.

Zaki was a former journalist and editor of a website It meant Let Us Build Pakistan. Lubp’s statement on martyrdom of Zaki says: “We offer our condolences to Pakistani nation on the martyrdom of LUBP blog’s editor and leading human rights activist Khurram Zaki. After Shaheed Irfan Khudi Ali of Quetta, Shaheed Khurram Zaki is the second LUBP editorial team member who has been target killed by Takfiri Deobandi militants. For the last one year, Shaheed Khurram Zaki was a target of a systematic hate campaign organized by Deobandi fanatic, Shamsuddin Amjad of the Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan in collaboration with the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP aka ASWJ/LeJ).

The statement further says: In boldly highlighting and supporting the rights of Sunni Barelvis, Shias, Sufis, Ahmadiyyas, Hindus and Christians, his contribution as citizen journalism was much bigger than all journalists combined in Pakistan. His death is the grim reminder that whoever raises voice against Taliban, ASWJ/LeJ and Jamaat-e-Islami Deobandi mafia in Pakistan will not be spared. And when they have to murder, they never fail.”

He was in the limelight when along with another activist Jibran Nasir, he started a campaign against notorious Lal Masjid’s cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz for inciting hatred against Shia Muslims. The effective campaign compelled authorities to register a case against the Maulana. In 2007, Islamabad’s Lal Masjid had challenged then President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf and it turned into a bloody encounter. He was subsequently arrested and acquitted by the Court. Zaki was not a secular in a traditional sense. He was a democrat and respected every religion. He himself was a scholar of Islam. Zaki in a complaint against Maulana Abdul Aziz and Jamia Hafsa-lal-Masjid had stated that they had released a video message in which the cleric attempted to incite sectarian hatred and violence against Shia Muslims by blaming them for leading the civil society campaign against Lal Masjid.

The killing of Zaki has shocked the civil society activists of Pakistan. Jibran Nasir said, ”The primary reason behind Zaki being shot dead was his constant activities in a bold manner.” Earlier, Sabeen Mehmud, Parveen Rehman, Rashid Rehman and some other activists were killed. It is not easy to raise voices against the religious extremists. Those who speak know the repercussions. They live under constant fear. They are aware that there cannot be foolproof security. But, the least they expect is an atmosphere where they can work without fear and expect government’s sincerity. The social activists are vulnerable targets. They do not move with security and do not keep weapons for their protection.

Zaki led a protest last December demanding that Abdul Aziz be arrested and charged with hate speech for allegedly justifying attacks on Peshawar Public School in which 132 students were killed. The brutal killings of innocent students and teachers took place in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. He was outspoken and consistently took the stand against anti-Shia militia Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Tehreek-e-Taliban and various other militant groups. In the true sense, he was a fearless defender of religious freedom. He defended minority communities like Hindus, Christians, Ahmadiyyas and Shias. Apart from LeJ, another anti-Shia militia Sipahi-e-Sahiba is also active in targeting Shia community. Hakeemullah group, a faction of Taliban group, has claimed the responsibility of Zaki’s killing. Taliban and anti-Shia militias work in tandem and they also help each other and protect each other.

Karachi once was the most liberal city. Today, the city has been divided into various ethnic groups and communities. Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), a party primarily of Urdu speaking people who migrated to Pakistan during the Partition, has a huge influence in the city. Criminal gangs are active and so are banned militant organizations. The army is actively involved in getting the city free of criminal gangs and militant organisations. The common people of Karachi feel the scenario has improved since the army’s intervention. Statistics show number of attacks have come down. But they could not save Zaki.

It is the responsibility of Pakistan government and security agencies to see that no more human right activists  get killed. They must be protected. The government needs to take social, political activists into confidence and create an atmosphere where they can work without fear.

By: Jatin Desai
Updated On:  Saturday, 14 May