KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Two young men received death sentences Friday over a fatal shooting that exposed class divisions in Pakistan and led to an unusual social media campaign demanding that the country’s rich and powerful be held accountable.
The suspects, Shahrukh Jatoi and Nawab Siraj Talpur, come from two of the wealthiest families in Karachi, a violent metropolis of 18 million people on Pakistan’s southern coast. They were convicted of killing 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan one late night in December after the university student had an argument with one of Talpur’s servants.
Khan’s family would likely have had little chance of getting justice in the past, though his father is a mid-ranking police officer. Pakistan’s police and judges are notoriously corrupt and are often swayed by pressure from the country’s elite.
After Khan’s death, his father called his wife’s brother-in-law, Nabeel Gabool, a member of the National Assembly, who said he had difficulty getting the police to register a case against the accused — an allegation denied by the police.
But powerful Pakistanis and their offspring are now faced with a growing cadre of citizens — often middle class or upper middle class — who are increasingly fighting them with the help of the Internet, an activist Supreme Court and prominent political figures seeking to harness their anger.
Activists in Karachi sprang into action over Khan’s death, holding protests, using Twitter and setting up a Facebook page, “In memory of Shahzeb Khan,” to get word out about the case. Some of the protests were organized by the party of politician Imran Khan, a former cricket star.
Eventually, the Supreme Court demanded that police arrest the suspected killers in 24 hours, seize their property and freeze their bank accounts. Police detained Jatoi, Talpur, his brother Sajjad Talpur and his servant Mustafa Lashari. Jatoi was nabbed in Dubai, where he had tried to escape.
After the court announced its verdict and sentence Friday, Pakistani TV channels aired video showing Jatoi making a victory sign and smiling as police pushed him toward a prison van.
Defense lawyer Hummol Zubedi confirmed the court’s decision but said that the defendants would appeal it. He added that the other two suspects were sentenced to life in prison.
Although Pakistan has many people on death row, the sentences are rarely carried out. Also, a life term usually translates to around 14 years in prison.
In a tearful interview broadcast on Pakistani TV channels, Khan’s mother, Ambreen Aurangzeb, said she was satisfied with the court ruling, but added, “I miss my son day and night, and this court order cannot bring him back.”
Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this report from Islamabad.