Leading Journalist, Women’s Rights Activist Shot Dead in Pakistan
Television news reports on the slaying of Shaheena Shaheen, shown onscreen. (Screengrab/ YouTube).

Leading Journalist, Women’s Rights Activist Shot Dead in Pakistan

Husband accused of ‘honor’ killing – but victim’s coverage of human rights issues may have been behind slaying

[Islamabad] A prominent journalist and women’s rights activist was shot dead in the Turbat area of Pakistan’s restive Balochistan Province on Saturday evening.

Shaheena Shaheen was a morning-show host for the state-owned Balochi-language PTV Bolan channel. She was also the editor of a Balochi magazine, Dazghar, and an artist.

Artwork by Shaheena Shaheen. (Courtesy BaluchistanUniversity Quetta)

She was buried in her ancestral graveyard in Turbat on Sunday amid tight security.

Liaquat Shahwani, Balochistan’s provincial spokesperson, told The Media Line that “Shaheena’s body was released to her uncle. Meanwhile, the police have launched a multi-pronged investigation and the murderer will be brought to… justice.”

Initially, it was reported that a banned militant group, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), claimed responsibility for Shaheen’s murder. However, further investigation indicated that she may have been killed by her husband. No official confirmation has been released.

The Media Line spoke with Baloch’s uncle, Ahmad Ali, a prominent Balochi-language poet.

“Shaheena was married six months ago to Mehrab Gichki, a local tribesman, and her husband did not want her to talk about Baloch women’s education, women’s rights and other issues,” Ali told The Media Line. “We believe that Shaheena was killed by her husband.”

Ali further said that after local police informed him that his niece had been shot by an unknown person, he rushed to the hospital where her “blood-soaked body was lying in the mortuary.”

Shaheen and her husband resided in a “posh housing society” in Turbat city, Ali said, adding that her mother and the rest of the family lived in Quetta, the provincial capital.

According to the uncle, Shaheen was born in Turbat in 1993. She studied at the University of Balochistan in Quetta, where she earned high grades while working toward a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a master’s degree in the Balochi language. One of six daughters in a family with no sons, she became the first woman from a remote area to work in television.

“She worked hard to motivate people to educate and empower their girls for the development of society,” Ali said. “Through her paintings, Shaheena tried to make people aware of the need to free their daughters from artificial tribal customs and not to impose any restrictions on them.”

Through her paintings, Shaheena tried to make people aware of the need to free their daughters from artificial tribal customs and not to impose any restrictions on them

Shaheena Shaheen shows off some of her art. (Courtesy Baluchistan University Quetta)

He adds that she was gaining in popularity, something that made her husband and “some others” unhappy.

“It was Shaheena’s keen wish to exhibit her paintings across the globe so that people would know about the talent of a Baloch woman,” he noted.

Police, meanwhile, have opened a file against her husband for alleged murder.

“Shaheena was brought to the hospital by an unknown person, who fled the scene saying that he would bring some women from home” to look after her, Abdul Jabbar Baloch, a Turbat-based intelligence official, told The Media Line.

“She was shot twice in the head and was brought to the hospital in critical condition,” he added. “Unfortunately, she died before she could make any statements.”

Najeeb Pandrani, a Turbat-based senior superintendent of police, told The Media Line that authorities had confiscated the vehicle in which Shaheena was taken to the hospital.

“When police reached the house where Shaheena was residing, blood and bullet casings were found in [a] room, which suggests that the woman was shot in the same room,” he said. “The police and other law enforcement agencies have alerted all checkpoints across Turbat to apprehend the fugitive.”

Faheem Baloch, one of Shaheena’s university classmates, described her as a “dynamic and talented” woman.

“Without any doubt, she was a champion of Baloch women’s rights. She strongly believed that only a woman can best understand women’s issues,” the classmate said. “A patriotic voice that was concerned about the issues of Baloch women has been silenced forever.”

Without any doubt, she was a champion of Baloch women’s rights. She strongly believed that only a woman can best understand women’s issues. A patriotic voice that was concerned about the issues of Baloch women has been silenced forever

Fauzia Shahid, a veteran journalist based in Islamabad and former general secretary of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, strongly condemned the killing.

“It is a bitter reality that the ‘Women’s Harassment Bill’ was unanimously passed by the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan in 2012, yet there is no practical implementation of this legislation in the country. This is clear evidence of a male-dominated society,” she told The Media Line.

She emphasized that “in light of horrific incidents like this, the state should play its vital role and swiftly implement the 2012 law.”

Shahid says that last month, she and other female journalists “had the opportunity to appear before Human Rights Committee, which is constituted by the National Assembly,” describing incidents of harassment that embarrassed some of the committee members.

“The most important issue is that women journalists are prevented from lodging complaints about harassment at work,” Shahid said. “Though the human rights minister promised to take action… we are still waiting.”

The most important issue is that women journalists are prevented from lodging complaints about harassment at work. Though the human rights minister promised to take action… we are still waiting

She also noted that “some state institutions are involved in targeting female journalists via fake accounts on social media.”

Sen. Sherry Rehman, a former leader of the opposition in the Senate and a former ambassador to the US, tweeted: “I heard it may have been an ‘honor’ killing, but this is unconfirmed. Why should there be impunity for [what was] either an attack on her freedom to report or on her right to make personal choices?”

Nighat Dad, a Lahore-based women’s rights activist, tweeted: “A journalist, an anchorperson, an art lover brutally murdered. Strongly condemn this cold-blooded murder of Shaheena in a place where we already have a dearth of women journalists.”

The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the killing.

“We are deeply disturbed by the ongoing violence against women in Pakistan. The perpetrators of these wanton, violent acts must be severely punished, and authorities must make the safety of women a priority,” the IFJ statement said.

Rafique Gorchani, a Quetta-based official in the police’s Heinous Crimes Investigation Department, told The Media Line there was “some evidence supporting the conclusion that Shaheen’s killing was the result of a domestic issue,” but that officials were not yet in a position to conclude this was the case.

“It would be premature to comment publicly on anything about her murder,” he said, adding that investigators were also investigating ties between the husband and members of the BLA.

The Afghanistan-based militant group has been fighting for a homeland since at least 2004. The United States declared it a terrorist organization in July 2019.

In May 2020, at least seven Pakistani troops were killed by a roadside bomb and an eighth was shot dead in separate attacks claimed by BLA militants.

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