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Pakistan court convicts five of reporter's murder in landmark case

Source: Reuters - Sat, 1 Mar 2014 14:56 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Katharine Houreld

ISLAMABAD, March 1 (Reuters) - A Pakistani court convicted five men on Saturday of murdering a young television reporter, his brother said, marking the first time anyone has been convicted for killing a Pakistani journalist.

Wail Babar, a 28-year-old journalist for Geo news, covered the seamy side of Karachi, a sweltering port megacity of 18 million people. He reported on drugs, crime, militancy and deadly turf struggles between the city's main political parties.

He was shot dead on Jan. 13, 2011 as he left work.

One of the men convicted, Mohammad Shahrukh Khan, said in a videotaped confession posted on YouTube that he had been asked to follow Babar home from work by an activist from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the party that rules Karachi.

The MQM denies any link to Khan or the other killers.

Khan said he followed Babar and called in the route to the MQM activist. Moments later, a man he had met at the activist's house shot Babar to death, he said.

"The traffic had come to a complete halt. Zeeshan was on foot. He was wearing a cap and pants. He stepped in front of Wail Babar's car and fired six to seven times. He had a black pistol," he said in the YouTube confession, which was authenticated to Reuters by the prosecutor.

The activist and the gunman were never caught but the court sentenced them to death in absentia, said prosecutor Abdul Maroof. One man was acquitted and Khan and three others were sentenced to life in prison.

Six witnesses, a lawyer and two policemen linked to the case have been murdered, said Maroof, who took on the case in 2012 after two previous prosecutors fled the country.

Maroof's own house was attacked in November but he shot back and wounded the gunman, who was later captured. Maroof said his attacker and all five accused stated they were members of MQM.

"I think justice has been done. I hope people would think again before attacking any other journalist in Pakistan," he said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says 46 journalists and media workers have been killed in Pakistan for their work since 2007. Babar's is the first case successfully prosecuted.

The MQM denies any involvement.

"None of the workers convicted by the court are members of the MQM. MQM does not tolerate violence," said party spokesman Nadir Jamal. "They were never affiliated with the MQM. I have verified it today."

The MQM's leader, Altaf Hussein, is wanted for an unrelated murder case in Pakistan and lives in exile in London.

Murtaza Babar, the brother of the journalist, appealed to British authorities to extradite Hussein to Pakistan to face charges in his brother's death.

"Justice has not been served," he said angrily. "These are the foot soldiers." (Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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