Human rights activists, locals and members of the legal community came together on Thursday to condemn the murder of human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman. He was killed on Wednesday night when two armed men opened fire at him in his law chambers in Multan’s Kutchery Square. Rehman, the coordinator for the Punjab office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), had been facing threats for pleading the case of a blasphemy suspect.
A condolence reference was held at HRCP’s Islamabad office where those gathered said they were “appalled that the judge hearing proceedings in Rehman’s case did not take the threats made to the lawyer seriously”. On April 10, the HRCP had issued a statement saying Rehman was being threatened by lawyers in Multan District Prison where he was representing a man accused of blasphemy. The hearing was being held in the prison due to security concerns. Three persons had addressed Rehman in the judge’s presence and said, “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist anymore.”
“Rehman’s murder is an indication that tomorrow it could be me or some other activist who is targeted,” said anthropologist and activist Samar Minallah, joined by 30 civil society activists at a demonstration organised by Insani Huqooq Ittehad at Islamabad’s Super Market, where candles were lit in Rehman’s memory. “Is the state unwilling or unable to stop those who kill with impunity?” asked activist Tahira Abdullah.
“Rashid bravely decided to represent a blasphemy-accused in a society where bigots believe that those accused do not have the right to defence,” HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yusuf said in a statement.
In Lahore, an event was organized by the HRCP on Thursday. HRCP Director Husain Naqi said lawyers are unwilling to take up cases involving those accused of blasphemy. HRCP demanded that the three men who threatened Rehman be “proceeded against under the law and effective measures be taken to ensure the defence lawyer’s security”.
In Multan, activists gathered in front of the Multan Press Club, led by lawyer Asma Jahangir. Rehman’s wife Beena told The Express Tribune that her husband had received threats since January. Chehlak police has filed a case against two unidentified suspects in the case.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2014.