Pakistan lays to rest journalist killed in ex-PM Khan march

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan laid to rest on Monday a journalist who was crushed to death while covering a political march held by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, with hundreds of mourners attending her funeral.

Sadaf Naeem, 36, a television journalist with Channel 5 in Lahore, died on Sunday after falling from the container truck that Khan was traveling in as the former premier and hundreds of his supporters journey to the capital, Islamabad.

Khan's followers are piled onto trucks and cars in the convoy but many are also marching alongside on foot. It has been the practice of Khan’s team to invite a few journalists at a time onto the top of the truck to speak to Khan.

Videos on social media show Naeem running alongside Khan’s truck to get an invite onto the top to speak to him. It is unclear how she fell down and lost her life in Kamuke, one of the towns on the march’s path.

Khan went to Naeem’s home in Lahore on Monday to convey his condolences. His allies, who rule Punjab province, where the convoy is on the road, have said they will bear the living costs and educational expenses of her two children, aged 17 and 21.

The popular opposition leader — Khan was an international cricket star before becoming an Islamist politician — paused his march after Naeem’s death amid widespread grief from her colleagues and politicians, who described her as courageous and hard-working.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif also expressed his condolences to Naeem’s bereaved family, announcing a financial donation of around $20,000 to her relatives. She was the breadwinner for her family and had worked as a journalist for 12 years.

Khan’s rally began in Lahore on Friday when about 10,000 demonstrators left for Islamabad. The former prime minister, ousted in a no-confidence vote in the parliament in April, has claimed he was toppled in a conspiracy, orchestrated by the United States and his successor — allegations that both Washington and Sharif have dismissed.

Khan's latest challenge to the government comes after Pakistan’s elections commission earlier this month disqualified him from holding public office for five years for allegedly selling state gifts unlawfully and concealing assets as premier.

Khan, who has challenged the disqualification, said Monday he would sue Chief Election Commissioner Sikandara Raja, who was behind the decision, for calling him a “dishonest person.”

According to Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader in Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, the rallygoers will enter the capital on Friday to seek early elections — a demand Sharif’s government has already rejected, saying the next vote will be held next year according to schedule, in 2023.

The government has warned of action if Khan’s rally turns violent. Khan himself hinted at a possible flashpoint when the convoy reaches Islamabad, saying in a tweet Monday that he had seen a “revolution" in the past six months.

“The sea of people along our March on the GT Road. For 6 months I have been witnessing a revolution taking over the country. Only question is will it be a soft one through the ballot box or a destructive one through bloodshed," he tweeted.

Analysts say the march could present a significant challenge to the new administration. Khan’s supporters clashed with police in a previous rally in May, forcing Sharif to summon troops. Khan abruptly called off his rally, saying he would return.

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Ahmed reported from Islamabad.

Babar Dogar And Munir Ahmed, The Associated Press