Islamabad, Pakistan – The police killing of a man in Karachi has sparked a social media outcry, as his family members reject claims by authorities that he was a member of the Pakistani Taliban, saying he was an innocent aspiring male model.
Police fatally shot Naqeebullah Mehsud, 27, during a raid on what they described as a “terrorist hideout” in eastern Karachi last week, according to a police statement.
He was buried in his native town of Makin, in the South Waziristan tribal district bordering Afghanistan, on Friday, family members told Al Jazeera, while protesting his innocence.
So-called “encounter killings” are common in Pakistan.
Rights groups say when police lack enough evidence for a court conviction, they extrajudicially kill suspects.
In 2016, police said they had killed at least 318 suspects during raids and shootouts in Karachi, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HCRP), an independent rights organisation.
“Some men in plainclothes came and abducted him from a restaurant in Karachi on January 3 [10 days before police said he was killed],” said Alamgir Mehsud, Naqeebullah’s cousin. “Then on January 16, we were told that he had been killed by police. We got his body back the next day.”
Naqeebullah, also known as Naqeeb, ran a popular Facebook page where he posted pictures of himself modelling clothes and hair styles.
“He used to work in a garment mill in Karachi, and he used that money to fund his modelling,” said Alamgir. “He was a sort of idol to young people from the Mehsud tribe in Karachi.”
By late December, Mehsud’s page had more than 14,000 followers, and he often posted light-hearted messages.
On September 16, he posted a warning to young people not to engage in the “Blue Whale Challenge”, a reported social media campaign that encouraged self-harm.
Social media users used the hashtag #JusticeForNaqib to post messages of solidarity with his family, pictures of him modelling and to demand the police be held to account.
Protests have been held against his killing in Karachi and the northwestern city of Peshawar.
‘Hardened Taliban member’
Police say Mehsud was a hardened member of the Pakistani Taliban, who had taken part in several operations targeting security personnel.
According to a police profile that led to the raid, h e carried out attacks on military convoys, police personnel and suspected military informers.
A native of Makin, once known as the nerve centre of the Pakistani Taliban, Mehsud often travelled between Karachi and the tribal district, Alamgir said.
He denied, however, that Mehsud or any other members had associated with Pakistani Taliban members, beyond what was necessary for survival.
“Frankly, the government’s writ had fallen there [in 2007], and the Taliban were in power,” he said. “We would go to them for justice or to settle disputes. It would be a lie for me to say that we did not do it [but] he never associated with them for any kind of militant activity.”
Naqeebullah Mehsud would have been 18 when the government re-established control over South Wazirstan in a military operation in 2009.
Rights groups demand investigation
Rights groups have called for an independent investigation, rejecting the government’s appointment on Thursday of a three-member police inquiry team to investigate the charges.
“Their own force is responsible for this, so how can they investigate it freely?” said Mehdi Hasan, the chairperson of the HRCP. “It needs to be done by an independent body.”
“We have never seen investigations like this show wrongdoing on the part of the police.”
According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, there were more than 2,000 encounter killings across Pakistan in 2015, with the practice considered to be “routine”.
“Several police officers who spoke to Human Rights Watch openly admitted to the practice of false or faked ‘encounter killings’, in which police stage an armed exchange to kill an individual already in custody,” the report said.