The assassination of Pakistani human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman highlights the perils facing human rights defenders in the country and the government’s ongoing failure to protect them, the ICJ said today.
On 7 May 2014, two gunmen opened fire in Rehman’s office in Multan, Punjab Province. Rehman was killed while a colleague and a client were injured.
Rehman was a Supreme Court advocate and the regional coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
The ICJ stressed the need for a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing and for those responsible to be held criminally accountable.
“Rashid Rehman was a brave and dedicated lawyer, a human rights defender in the truest sense of the word,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia director. “He was committed to protecting human rights and the rule of law in Pakistan and the region, and his presence will be deeply missed.”
Rehman was defense counsel in a high profile case involving a university lecturer charged under Pakistan’s much criticized blasphemy laws of making blasphemous statements on his Facebook page.
Rehman had received threats since he took up the case earlier this year. On 9 April 2014, three persons, including at least one lawyer pursuing the blasphemy charge, warned Rehman in open court that if he did not drop the case he would not make it to the next hearing.
Despite Rehman’s complaints to the Punjab government, the authorities failed to lodge a First Information Report (FIR) against the accused, which is required to initiative police action or investigation.
“This tragic incident highlights the ongoing failure of the government of Pakistan to protect human rights defenders, even when the police are notified of credible threats,” said Zarifi. “The blasphemy law has actually fostered an environment where extremist groups feel they can act with impunity by claiming some sort of religious justification, knowing that the government will not hold them to account.”
Human rights groups have long campaigned against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which carry a possible death penalty and are frequently used to settle personal scores and persecute religious minorities. Those accused of blasphemy, and their lawyers, often become target of extrajudicial killings and other violence.
“Rehman spent his life trying to document human rights violations and to seek justice for victims, so we hope that the government will act urgently to provide accountability for his killing,” Zarifi said. “In particular, the government must investigate whether the police failed in their duty to protect him despite the well-publicized and credible threats he faced.”
In addition, the government must review the relevant legal framework and security measures for the protection of human rights defenders, bringing them in conformity with international law and standards.
The government should also invite the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, who has outstanding requests for visits to Pakistan, access to the country to assess the situation of human rights defenders.
Contact: Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; email: sam.zarifi(a)icj.orgNewsPress releases