Islamabad: Five policemen raise their guns and fire dozens of times into a parked car at point-blank range in Pakistan.
Then they reach inside, around the bodies of the dead, to pull out three crying children. The footage filmed by shocked witnesses to the killing went viral, sending Prime Minister Imran Khan scrambling to quell anger over a police culture of impunity that is now being threatened by social media.
Thousands have been gunned down in recent years across Pakistan in so-called “encounter killings” — incidents where suspects allegedly resist arrest, are slain, then later identified as terrorists to boost statistics. This latest “encounter” saw a family gunned down in broad daylight in the eastern city of Sahiwal last month, leaving four people dead including two parents and their teenage daughter.
Three children survived the incident, including nine-year-old Umair Khalil who later told journalists that police shot at the family as their father offered the cops a bribe, pleading to let them go. “My father told them to take our money and not to shoot their guns. But they started firing,” Umair said in the video broadcast widely across Pakistan news outlets and social media.
Police initially defended their response saying terrorists with links to the Islamic State group were in the car using the family as a human shield. But this “encounter” was fundamentally different to others — it was filmed on phones and the videos posted online.
Authorities have since backtracked as furore grew with the prime minister vowing to mete out “exemplary punishment” to the guilty. Five officers were hit with murder charges and protests erupted in nearby Lahore. “People… know that a video they make from their cell phone can have far more impact than the camera of a news channel,” said Pakistani digital rights activist Haroon Baloch.