KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) -- More than 2,000 people were murdered in Pakistan's largest city last year, but the shooting death of 20-year-old Shahzeb Khan in one of Karachi's most upscale neighborhoods sparked an unusual outcry and highlighted a growing trend of citizens using social media to hold the country's rich and powerful to account.
Khan was allegedly gunned down by a pair of young men from two of the wealthiest families in Karachi, a chaotic metropolis of 18 million people on Pakistan's southern coast. The late night shooting at the end of December occurred after Khan, a university student, had an argument with one of the alleged shooters' servants.
Khan's family would likely have had little chance of getting justice in the past, even though his father is a mid-ranking police officer. Pakistan's police and judges are notoriously corrupt and are often swayed by pressure from the country's elite. The same is true for the main media outlets, which often take their business interests and political biases into account when choosing to run a story.
Those underlying dynamics have not changed. But Pakistanis lining the corridors of power and their offspring, who are often bred with an extreme sense of entitlement, are now faced with a growing cadre of citizens who have had enough. Those citizens, many of whom are middle or upper middle class, are attempting to fight back with the help of the Internet, an activist Supreme Court and prominent political figures seeking to harness their anger.
"What we are seeing is somewhat of a democratization of power," said Cyril Almeida, a political analyst and columnist for Pakistan's Dawn newspaper. "Public naming and shaming is now more possible."
Khan's saga began around midnight on Dec. 24 when he dropped his sister off at their family's apartment in the upmarket neighborhood of Defense after attending a wedding reception, said his father, Aurangzeb Khan. While she waited for her brother to pick up the apartment keys from their parents, she was harassed by a servant working for one of their neighbors, 22-year-old Nawab Siraj Talpur, son of one of the largest landowners in surrounding Sindh province.
Khan rushed back after his sister called to complain and also argued with the servant, said his father, who tried to resolve the issue with Talpur. The younger Khan slapped the servant in anger, said police. The situation worsened when Shahrukh Jatoi, the teenage son of a wealthy industrialist and landowner, arrived and declared that the younger Khan had dishonored his friend, Talpur, and they would take revenge, said the elder Khan.
The two allegedly opened fire on the younger Khan minutes later as he was driving, causing his car to slam into a tree and flip over, said the head of the police investigation, Niaz Jhoso, citing eyewitnesses. They allegedly fired at him again after the crash, killing him, said the police investigator. The two men have denied the accusations.
"I'm struggling to get the killers punished," said the dead man's father. "What is this law of the jungle that if a rich person commits a crime no one is there to nab him?"
Karachi is a notoriously violent place, but most murders occur in the city's poorest neighborhoods, where gangs affiliated with the main political parties battle over land and extort money from local businesses. Violence in the city's upscale neighborhoods of Defense and Clifton is much rarer, and anger is often directed at the "feudal elite" -- a label that originally applied to owners of vast agricultural lands but has come to encompass urban industrialists as well.
"That is where the 'respectable' scum come in, treating citizens like serfs, driving around with guards, drunk, partying, picking up girls and very often raping and dumping them," political analyst Ejaz Haider wrote in a recent column in The Express Tribune newspaper. "These families are influential and killing a human being for them is like swatting a fly. Even if a case is reported, the rich and influential criminals never get punished."
After Khan's death, his father called his wife's brother-in-law, Nabeel Gabool, a member of the National Assembly, who said he had difficulty getting the police to register a case against the accused -- an accusation denied by the police.
Activists in Karachi kicked into gear, holding protests to demand justice and using Twitter and Facebook to get their message out. They set up a Facebook page "In memory of Shahzeb Khan" that has over 130,000 likes. Some of the protests were organized by the party of politician Imran Khan, a former cricket star who has railed against the country's feudals. The outcry attracted significant media attention.