Human rights activists vowed on Friday to continue to raise their voice on rights issues. They are determined to not let the death of their co-worker scare them.
At a condolence meeting held to honour lawyer Rashid Rehman, members of civil society gathered at the office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Karachi and paid tribute to the deceased rights activist.
HRCP chairperson Zohra Yusuf said that Rehman, who was coordinator of the organisation's taskforce in Multan, was a dedicated activist and lawyer. "He was associated with the HRCP for the past 20 years," she said. "He was a brave man and spoke against injustice in society. He was also Mukhtaran Mai's lawyer in the beginning."
Yusuf said that the lawyer had taken up the case of a blasphemy accused that was in the jail for a year and no one was willing to take up this case. "But at his very first hearing of the case in Multan Central Jail, Rehman was threatened," she pointed out. "How many people were able to enter the jail, we don't know."
The HRCP has also held the authorities responsible for the incident. "We wrote a letter to the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, on April 9 when Rehman was threatened but there was absolutely no response and no protection was provided."
The activist was asked to move to Lahore or Karachi but he continued to stay in Multan. According to the HRCP, this is their fifth activist, who has been killed in the last few years. "The environment in which human rights defenders are working has become alarming and dangerous," said Yusuf, urging the activists to unite and continue their work.
The newly-elected Sindh vice chairperson, Asad Iqbal Butt, said that Rashid knew his life was in danger but he kept doing this work. "His father was a prominent leftist but he never used his father's influence to get things done," he said. "He struggled against injustice against women, bonded labourers and even minorities."
Butt said that human rights activists were getting threats from extremists but their weapons or threats won't discourage them.
The defenders signed a petition to demand action against the killers as they marched towards Karachi Press Club to protest the killing. Activist Zahid Farooq said that Rehman was the voice of the suppressed.
"It is becoming difficult to debate the law now," she said. "The worse thing is that people accused of blasphemy are being denied a right to fair trial."
Published in The Express Tribune, May 10th, 2014.
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