“In Rashid Rehman’s death, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has lost a courageous and committed human rights defender. The forces of religious extremism, unchecked by the state, may have won a battle but not the war”, HRCP Director Hussain Naqi said. He was speaking at an event organised by HRCP on Thursday in Lahore to condemn the killing of Advocate Rashid Rehman. He said Rehman had been a committed rights activist and lawyer. He had been associated with the HRCP for over 20 years.
Naqi said HRCP had issued a statement on April10 mentioning that Rehman was being threatened by prosecution lawyers in Multan, where he was representing a blasphemy suspect. The judge, it was reported, ignored the threats made to Rehman in his presence. Three men had allegedly told him that he would be killed before the next hearing.
He said it was regrettable that no attention had been paid to their concerns and nothing was done to investigate the people who had threatened Rehman. He said the HRCP was demanding that cases be registered immediately against those who had threatened the deceased.
Naqi said Rehman had bravely decided to represent a blasphemy suspect in a society where bigots believed that those accused of the crime did not have the right to a defence.
Naqi said the social and political environment had deteriorated to a point where lawyers were not taking up cases that were important for the protection of human rights.
Dr Mehdi Hasan said Rehman’s murder was a result of the politicisation of religion that had gone on for 67 years. He said he could not make any suggestions that would be helpful. “Some of you will protest in front of press clubs, arrange rallies and hold candle-light vigils but nothing will come of these activities. Unfortunately the political parties are under the influence of individuals who proudly claim to be teachers of militants.”
Hasan raised the question: why do journalists needed security in the first place. “We don’t need security; we need to change the extremist mindset prevalent in the country”.
Shirkat Gah executive director Farida Shaheed said that Rehman’s death was a tragic loss of a committed human rights defender. “He was brave enough to take up issues that no one else dared to touch. He will surely be missed.”
South Asia Partnership-Pakistan deputy director Irfan Mufti said, “Rehman’s murder is a great loss. The problem is the extremist mindset…the state has failed to stop injustice.” Mufti called for protests, rallies and vigils.
“Human Rights defenders and lawyers representing blasphemy suspects are threatened on a regular basis, yet the state fails to take action. The debate on blasphemy laws died with the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. It is time to re-open the debate and do something about it,” Mehmal Sarfraz said. She said people should not get away with murder.
Jugnu Mohsin, Iftikhar Mubarak of the Child Right Movement and Naeem Shakir of the Labour Party also spoke on the occasion.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2014.
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