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The Man Who Shot Sialkot

Can we protect Hafiz Imran?

by Syed Mansoor Hussain

Hafiz Imran has been in hiding since his footage went viral. Like the Zapruder reel of the JFK assassination, the Sialkot film stealthily shot by Imran on Aug. 15 has had a profound, gut-wrenching impact on Pakistan, already awash with images of heartbreaking misery from the floods, carnage from terrorist and sectarian attacks, and other variations on human suffering.

Imran, a reporter for news channel Dunya TV, shot three minutes of the 45 minutes he spent that early morning on Daska Road watching, helplessly, the mob murder of two teenage brothers, Mughees Butt and Muneeb Butt. The killings involved participation from policemen, rescue service officers—and children. The brothers were tortured, beaten, dragged, and strung upside down outside the local office of Rescue 1122. The mob believed the two were armed robbers who had also murdered a 25-year-old and shot his 32-year-old brother. The Supreme Court has rubbished this line of defense, which was also mouthed by federal minister Firdous Ashiq Awan.

“When I got there, the police were standing over what seemed to be two dead bodies that were being beaten by the mob,” says Imran of the day of the murders, speaking with Newsweek Pakistan from an undisclosed location. “It seemed to me that the police were covering their tracks—they had realized that the brothers weren’t criminals—so they could not be left alive and even their faces had to be disfigured with a shovel.”

So far, 36 people including at least 10 policemen have been arrested. But it is unlikely that any of the accused, including those implicated by Imran’s tape, will ever see any real punishment. “The elected representatives appoint their own choice of officers in their constituencies and get them to do all sorts of things,” says Imran. “They help each other in times of trouble.”

Because eyewitnesses in Pakistan have a history of either disappearing or being intimidated into silence, Imran’s—and onlookers’ mobile-phone—footage of the crime remains the key evidence. Imran, 27, was attacked Aug. 29 outside his home by two assailants on a motorcycle. “As God is my witness, I have no fears about what may happen to me,” he says, adding that 17 persons have been presented in court because of his tape, and reprisal attacks could come from any one of their families.

It was Imran who alerted other journalists to what had happened in Sialkot. His channel broadcast the footage the same day. Others soon followed. “These murders have sown the seeds of a revolution,” he says, satisfied that the footage was finally aired. As he was shooting that day, he saw rubberneckers stopping their cars to take pictures with their phone cameras. “But nobody did anything to save them,” he says. Imran neither had the equipment to go live with his footage nor credit in his phone to make calls. He recorded the scene in shock and couldn’t sleep for three days.

As the murders become a distant tragedy, Pakistan’s Islamic laws are likely to come into play, and the family of the killed brothers will be pressured into accepting “blood money” in exchange for pardoning the accused. So far, there are no signs that the family will buckle. In compensation for their loss, the Punjab government gave the family Rs. 1 million, which they donated to flood-relief work. They remain adamant that justice must be done.

All this does not mean that the deaths of these two brothers will be in vain. Last year, a video showing a 16-year-old girl being flogged by the Taliban in Swat sent shockwaves across Pakistan, turned public opinion firmly against the militants, and forced the government into taking action. The Sialkot killings demonstrate desperation with, and loss of faith in, the justice and political systems. This time, slaps on the wrist and cosmetic disciplinary action from the government against those involved will not do. This atrocity will either lead to real police reforms or, as Imran claims, revolution.

As for Imran, he does not trust the police or know when it will be alright for him to step back into the sun. He says he will continue his campaign for justice: “If the media forgets, this nation will go back to sleep.”

With Zara Zamir

Hussain is a cardiac surgeon and editor-at-large of Newsweek Pakistan

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