19th June 2021

By Rehan Piracha


Press freedom watchdogs have called for re-investigating a 2007 murder case of a Mirpurkhas journalist Zubair Mujahid, after a new in-depth investigative report found glaring irregularities in the original murder investigation conducted by the police.

The report, ‘Breaking the Silence: An investigation into the murder of Zubair Mujahid’ suggested that the re-investigation should explore possible involvement of the Mirpurkhas police and Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Zubair’s murder.

The report has been published as part of an initiative, called ‘A Safer World for the Truth,’ launched by the Free Press Unlimited (FPU), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Zubair Mujahid was a journalist from Mirpurkhas whose stories exposed corruption and human rights abuses. His stories and columns were published in the Daily Jang in Karachi. On 23 November 2007, Zubair was shot while he was sitting behind his colleague who was riding a motorcycle. Mujahid was going home from office.

An investigation into Zubair’s murder was conducted by the local police department in Mirpurkhas, but failed to identify a suspect. A second round of investigations was conducted by the Crime & Investigation Branch in Hyderabad but this did not yield any results either. In the 13 years that have passed since the murder, no one has been convicted for it and the killers are still at large.

To break the silence around Zubair’s murder, A Safer World for the Truth conducted its own investigation into the case. The press freedom watchdog’s investigation team reviewed the official police files and interviewed 20 witnesses with the aim of uncovering new evidence to support the road to justice for Zubair. The investigation also included an analysis of Zubair’s publications prior to the murder, and threats he received in response to his writing.

Threats from Mirpurkhas police

In its findings, the investigation report revealed that Zubair reported extensively on alleged wrongdoings of the Mirpurkhas police that occurred in the course of 2007. He exposed several instances of police misconduct, including cases of alleged torture.

As a result of Zubair’s reporting, some of these incidents were brought before the Supreme Court, leading to the eventual removal of a number of police officers from their posts. As these events unfolded, Zubair started receiving worrying threats from individuals within the Mirpurkhas police in relation to his reporting. He was still receiving these threats a few days before he was murdered.

Against the backdrop of Zubair’s reporting on the Mirpurkhas police and the impact his reporting had on the police department, it was unlikely that the department would conduct an unbiased investigation into his murder. In fact, individuals within the Mirpurkhas police may have had motive for the murder and should have been considered as potential suspects.

Errors and gaps in police investigations

Voicepk.net also reviewed the official police files. Several significant errors and anomalies in the investigations carried out by the Mirpurkhas police, and by the Crime & Investigation Branch in Hyderabad were documented.

These errors include the careless handling of physical evidence – including the bullet and the bullet casing – and the apparent lack of forensic analysis that could have significantly advanced the investigation.

Voicepk.net also reviewed the official police files. Several significant errors and anomalies in the investigations carried out by the Mirpurkhas police, and by the Crime & Investigation Branch in Hyderabad were documented.

In light of these serious errors in the official murder investigation, the report concludes that a re-investigation of the murder is necessary to achieve justice for Zubair.

Based on information gathered through their own investigation, the report identifies two potential avenues for further investigation.

Firstly, the possible involvement of the Mirpurkhas police must be explored.

The aforementioned threats received by Zubair in the period leading up to his murder are an indication that individuals within the police unit may have had strong motive to murder him.

Threats from the MQM

The report also called for exploring the possible involvement of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in the murder.

The MQM’s armed wing was reportedly responsible for a large part of the political violence that took place in Sindh in 2007. The investigation report found indications that the MQM attempted to pressure Zubair into reporting more favorably about it. The report also documents threats that Zubair received from MQM members in the 1990s.

Impartial re-investigation through high court orders

In its recommendation, A Safer World for the Truth report called for re-investigation of the murder conducted by an effective and impartial investigation team. The re-investigation must be done under the auspices of the Sindh High Court.

Article 199 of Chapter 1 of the Constitution grants Zubair Mujahid’s family the right to seek remedy when their fundamental rights are undermined.

In light of the errors and bias found in the official investigation, the High Court of Sindh has the jurisdiction to evaluate whether Article 10A of the Constitution – the right to a fair trial – has been violated. Thereafter, the High Court of Sindh can give directions to re-investigate the case.

In order to safeguard the impartiality, effectiveness and safety of a future investigation, the renewed investigation must be monitored by an independent mechanism and adequate protection of witnesses must be guaranteed.

The re-investigation must explore the possible involvement of the Mirpurkhas police and the possible involvement of the MQM in the murder, as detailed in this report.

Disclosing police probes to family

The report said that information regarding past investigation efforts must be disclosed to Zubair Mujahid’s family. The Crime & Investigation Branch in Hyderabad must inform the family about the efforts it has made to find the perpetrators of Zubair’s murder. Furthermore, the Magistrate Court of Mirpurkhas must notify the family of any directions given to the Crime & Investigation Branch of Hyderabad with regards to the case, should this be requested by the family.

In Sindh, judicial propriety demands that the judicial magistrate – who has supervisory jurisdiction – ‘shall maintain records’ and ‘keep calling reports’ from the police authorities that investigate the case.

Special unit should investigate murder of journalists

The report recommended that efforts to investigate murders of journalists must be stepped up and justice must be pursued. Pakistan has seen almost total impunity for the murder of journalists over the past decade, according to figures from Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Increased efforts are needed to achieve justice for the murder of journalists, for example by setting up a special unit which is mandated to investigate and prosecute unresolved murders of journalists.

International monitoring

The report called upon the international community to provide support to achieve justice for Zubair Mujahid and for Pakistan’s fight against impunity. The international community must monitor progress on the re-investigation of Zubair Mujahid’s murder, the report recommended.

If requested by the Pakistani authorities, resources and expertise must be made available to help resolve the murder. The international community must further increase its support for Pakistan’s efforts to break the cycle of impunity, the report said.