For over 10 years, Shahid Soomro's reports on tribal feuds and barbaric tribal justice in the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan often made the headlines of 'Daily Kawish', a regional Sindhi-language newspaper.
On October 21, this intrepid journalist paid with his life for questioning Pakistan's feudal system and injustice to the poor. He was shot while resisting five armed men who tried to kidnap him from his home, and succumbed to his injuries in hospital soon after.
Aziz, Soomro's younger brother, identified three of the five killers and lodged a case against them at the police station. Two of the main accused in the killing are nephews of the veteran politician, Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, who was recently elected a Member of the National Assembly (MNA).
The reports filed by Soomro often stepped on influential toes. During the recent elections, his articles had antagonised some of the local tribal chiefs, who accused him of ignoring them and giving coverage to their rival candidates. Apparently, Soomro had refused to cover Bijarani's election
Soomro's murder is a horrifying example of the might and mindset of the feudal lords. In the recent past, feudal landlords and police officials are believed to have tortured several newsmen working in Pakistan's under-developed areas when they reported against them. In fact, the feudal chieftains in Sindh province are said to have killed many journalists. "These feudal chiefs are brought up to teach a lesson to anyone who challenges their clout," says Mashooq Odhano, one of Soomro's colleagues.
Ali Qazi, editor of 'Daily Kawish', believes Soomro's murder is a horrifying example of the worst form of intolerance prevalent in Pakistan. "Many of these feudal chiefs are not ready to accept that the situation has changed. The downtrodden farmers are beginning to revolt against the excesses of their feudal lords. Now, not only are the peasants refusing to blindly obey them, they are also daring to expose them if they are involved in any illegal or immoral acts," he says.
"In the past, small-time police officials or journalists were intimidated by the feudal chiefs. Now trends in journalism have undergone a sea-change; but the feudals have refused to accept this new reality and continue to bully and threaten all those who oppose them," Qazi contends.
The police initially arrested two of the alleged killers while three others remained at large. Due to the hue and cry raised by the media and civil society, all five are now in police custody. But the intimidation has not ended. On November 4, the police officer investigating the case was seriously injured when he received a parcel bomb concealed in a box of sweets that blew up when he opened it.
According to the police official, he had been receiving threats from the relatives of the accused, and he was warned of serious consequences if he implicated the two influential accused. "You have to live here and you know to what extent can we go," he was told.
Soomro started his career as a journalist in 1988 and had been working for the 'Daily Kawish' since 1991. According to his colleagues, he had received threats from some feudal landlords during the elections and was worried someone would try to eliminate him. "I think if people in this area were to
be killed for what they write, I'd be the first to go," he is reported to have told his colleagues.
Soomro's colleagues have called upon the government to take his case up in the anti-terrorist court. At least 1,500-odd journalists who came from across the country to attend a protest rally at Soomro's hometown in Kandhkot vowed that if all the killers were not brought to book, they would take the case up to the international level. All of them have decided to volunteer one day's salary to fight Soomro's case in the court of law.
Condemning Soomro's killing, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) - an international organisation working to protect journalists - have also demanded that the government should award maximum punishment to his killers, so that similar
incidents do not take place in the future.
Says A S R Shamsi, President of FUJ, "When a journalist is killed, it is a crime against society, not simply an individual. Whoever can silence a journalist can silence everyone. Unless the authorities investigate Shahid Soomro's killing on a high priority basis, there is little hope for the protection of basic human rights, not just of journalists but for society as a whole."
But with the backing of a sitting MNA - who is a feudal lord to boot - it is a moot point whether Soomro's murderers will ever be brought to justice.
Soomro leaves behind five young children, a wife and an old mother to mourn his death. "My son has been killed because he had been reporting about the injustice against the poor. If his killers are not brought to justice, no mother will ever let her son fight for the underprivileged," says his mother.