A leading human rights campaigner and blogger who was instrumental in filing cases against Lal Masjid cleric Mullah Abdul Aziz and other right wing radicals in Pakistan was shot dead in Karachi on Saturday night, once again putting a question mark on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s campaign against religious extremism in the country.
Khurram Zaki, 40, who edited the blog Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP) which claimed to “spread liberal religious views and condemned extremism in all forms” was shot dead while his companion was seriously injured as they sat outside a Karachi eatery for dinner.
Four suspects riding on two motorcycles opened fire on Zaki while he was eating dinner. The activist was killed, and two others – journalist Rao Khalid and bystander Aslam – were critically wounded in the attack.
According to his Twitter profile, Zaki was the former head of current affairs for TV Channel News One, where he looked after Infotainment and religious programming. Zaki’s website Lubpak.com is currently blocked in Pakistan by most internet service providers. The site also links to @CriticalPPP on Twitter, which appears to be the official account for LUBP.
A spokesperson of Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen (MWM) said that Khurram Zaki was not only a prominent civil society activist but also a religious scholar who attended programmes on various TV channels.
Zaki was last in the media limelight alongside activist Jibran Nasir in a campaign against Lal Masjid cleric Mullah Abdul Aziz for inciting hatred against Shia Muslims. The campaigners had managed to get a case registered against Aziz.
The complaint said that “request was made to lodge and register an FIR against Molvi Aziz under ATA (Anti-Terrorism Act), including sections 6 and 8 and PPA (Protection of Pakistan Act) (Scheduled Offence II) and other appropriate sections of CrPC and other relevant laws and arrest him accordingly.”
In January 2015, capital police registered a case against a video of Jamia Hafsa students, and was given a green light from the prosecution department, a police official said on condition of anonymity.
In his complaint for registration of the case, Zaki had stated that Maulana Aziz and Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid released the video message, in which the cleric attempted to incite sectarian hatred and violence against Shia Muslims.
The MWM spokesperson said they believed that banned sectarian outfits were involved in this gruesome murder. Rights activist Sabeen Mahmud, who was also gunned down in Karachi, had taken part in the protest against Lal Masjid as well.
Pakistan interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has in many instances defended the actions of the controversial mullah, who in one public statement had pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Pakistan. Last week, the Sharif government banned an award-winning documentary on Aziz and his activities, saying that its screening was against the national interest.
The killing of Zaki comes at a time when the Sharif government is readying itself for another confrontation with the army high command. While the Sharif government has shielded Aziz, the army wants to start an operation to target extremists in Punjab province.
Aziz also accused Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and its officials of supporting and promoting a sectarian agenda by trying to concoct false and fabricated evidence against him. He specifically accused an unnamed serving brigadier in the agency, who he claimed belongs to the Shia sect.