Pakistan will hold a formal inquiry into the killing in Kenya of a top TV news anchor who fled the country to avoid sedition charges, the prime minister said Tuesday.
Arshad Sharif, a strident critic of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment and supporter of former premier Imran Khan, died when Kenyan police opened fire on his car at a roadblock outside the capital at the weekend.
Kenyan officials say it was a case of mistaken identity, as officers thought they were firing on a stolen vehicle involved in abduction.
“I have decided to form a Judicial Commission to hold an inquiry into the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif in order to determine the facts of the tragic incident in a transparent & conclusive manner,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted on Tuesday.
Mainstream and social media in Pakistan were rife with speculation that Sharif, who had spoken publicly about death threats against him, had been deliberately targeted.
“It was a planned assassination,” tweeted Shireen Mazari, a Khan loyalist and cabinet minister in his previous government, calling the official version of events a “lie”.
“We know, you know so don’t in our time of grief add to our anger also.”
Sharif fled the country in August, days after interviewing senior opposition politician Shahbaz Gill, who said junior officers in Pakistan’s military should disobey orders that went against “the will of the majority”.
The comment led to the news channel being briefly taken off air and an arrest warrant issued for Sharif.
Gill was detained following the interview, and Khan’s criticism of the judiciary over the detention led to his own appearance in court.
Pakistan has been ruled by the military for several decades of its 75-year history and criticism of the security establishment has long been seen as a red line.
It is ranked 157 out of 180 countries in a press freedom index compiled by Reporters without Borders, with journalists facing censorship and intimidation.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the establishment had “a long, grim record of violent tactics to silence journalists”.
Journalist Hamid Mir, who has survived at least two assassination attempts, cautiously welcomed the inquiry.
“Please remember that a judicial commission comprising three Supreme Court judges was announced in 2014 to investigate assassination attempt on my life in Karachi,” he tweeted.
“I got six bullets. 8 years have been passed and I am still waiting for the commission report.”
The killing has also sparked outrage and suspicion in Kenya, where earlier this month, President William Ruto disbanded a police unit accused of extrajudicial killings, and vowed to overhaul the country’s security forces.
Sharif’s body was due to be returned to Pakistan on Wednesday, his wife tweeted.