Ajay Lalwani, a local general news correspondent for the Urdu language Daily Puchano and Royal News TV channel, both privately-owned, was shot three times in the stomach, arm, and knee as he was sitting in a barber shop in the Saleh Pat area of Sukkur District, in northern Sindh Province on March 17, 2021, according to Daily Puchano editor Ashiq Jatoi, who spoke with CPJ via phone, and news reports.
Jatoi said two motorcycles and a car with four passengers drove by the barbershop and opened fire, striking Lalwani. A police report posted on Twitter by Pakistan National Assembly member Lal Malhi said the journalist was fired upon from a motorcycle. He was taken to Civil Hospital in Sukkur where he died the next day due to blood loss, said Jatoi.
Imdad Soomro, a correspondent for national English daily The News, who saw the journalist in the hospital before his death, confirmed the account with CPJ via phone.
On March 29, police arrested five suspects and recovered the weapon used to kill the journalist, according to Ifran Ali Samo, Sukkur’s senior superintendent of police, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and to news reports. Samo told CPJ that one suspect, whom he described as the “mastermind” of the killing, confessed that the attack stemmed from a personal dispute with Lalwani over an eight-year-old criminal case and a financial deal. However, Lalwani’s father, Dileep Kumar, disputed this, saying that Lalwlani did not have personal enemies, according to news reports and to Jatoi. As of April 16, authorities were still holding the five suspects but had not filed formal charges.
Jatoi told CPJ that he doubted the impartiality of the Sukkur police investigators, citing a history of tension between the local police and journalists. As CPJ has documented, Sukkur police have filed anti-state charges against journalists who report on alleged corruption, leading to protests by members of the press; sometimes these demonstrations are met with police violence.
On April 2, following demands of Lalwani’s parents and local journalists who told CPJ they did not trust the local police, the deputy inspector general of police for crime and investigation for Sindh Province ordered that the investigation of Lalwani’s killing be transferred from Sukkur to police in the nearby district of Kashmore, according to The News and to a copy of the order posted on Twitter by Soomro. Senior superintendent of police Amjad Ahmed Shaik, who is in charge of the investigation in Kashmore, confirmed to CPJ via a messaging app that he had begun working on the case and that he planned to visit the crime scene and meet with the witnesses starting on April 10.
Jatoi told CPJ he believes that the killing was related to Lalwani’s reporting, citing past threats against the journalist, though he did not provide further details about the threats. Jatoi dismissed suggestions made by some journalists to CPJ that Lalwani, a Hindu in a predominantly Muslim nation, might have been targeted because of his reporting on Hindu-related issues. He told CPJ he believes that Lalwani was singled out because of his reporting on the alleged abuse of power by a locally influential person. Lalwani also reported critically on police performance and corruption, Jatoi said.
CPJ sent a request for comment via messaging app to the spokesperson for the Sindh Province police, which oversees the two district police forces in Sukkur and Kashmore, but it was not answered.