Civil society calls for arrest of Rashid Rehman’s killers
LAHORE: The Joint Action Committee for Peoples Rights has called for the arrest of the killers of lawyer and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Multan coordinator Rashid Rehman and demanded state protection for lawyers and journalists working on controversial cases in a protestmeeting held at Aiwan-e-Iqbal on Thursday. In honour of Rehman, who was killed on May 7 by two unknown gunmen in his office, an empty chair was placed at the centre of the stage by the organizers to symbolize the activist’s immortal spirit and legacy of rights advocacy.
A short documentary filmed by an HRCP representative proceeded the day’s memorial event and narrated Rashid Rehman’s journey as a human rights activist working for a number of causes, including the welfare of religious minorities, labourers, students, peasants, and vulnerable women in the province. Social workers and sympathizers from Hyderabad, Larkana, Khanewal, Toba Tek Singh, Islamabad, Karachi, Badin, Faisalabad, Multan, and Quetta also attended the memorial rally. Presiding over Thursday’s protest meeting, activist Tanveer Jehan said extremists were mistaken if they believed their cowardly actions could silence progressive voices in the country. She said the country’s trade unions, peasants, and people were united against forces using violence to impose their views on others. One hundred Rashid Rehmans’ will come forward if one more progressive figure is killed in Pakistan, she added. Jehan said the attacks on senior anchorpersons Hamid Mir and Raza Rumi were condemnable and demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the government to crack down on violent elements.
She said it was unfortunate that the government was engaged in negotiations with terrorist groups who were violating the ceasefire on a daily basis. Representing Women Action Forum (WAF), Rubina Saigol read out a statement on behalf of the forum condemning Rehman’s killing and expressing sympathy with the bereaved family. Saigol said Rehman’s murder was part of a larger wave of attacks and target killings on people working for the oppressed in Pakistan. She said such attacks would not silence independent voices, and instead would embolden anti-extremist sentiments in the country. She said: “The state patronage of extremism is highly condemnable and extremist individuals should be prevented from taking law into their own hands.” Director of Ajoka Theatre Shahid Nadeem said the theatre group had historically been a platform for progressive voices and continued to stage plays on issues, including discrimination against extremism and gender-based violence.
He paid homage to Rehman and said the empty chair also represented the silence of the government in the face of extremist attacks. He said that a climate of fear was preventing people from speaking openly against growing religious intolerance. National Director, Peace and Justice Commission Faisal Chaudhry presented a message on behalf of Pakistan’s Christian community that expressed deep sorrow over Rehman’s death and honoured him for his support of religious minorities. He quoted his late father Captain Cecil Chaudhry and said religion and humanity were one and the same. Veteran journalist Ahmed Rashid expressed his happiness over the presence of a large number of people in Aiwan-e-Iqbal who wished for a progressive and peaceful Pakistan. He said it was the responsibility of all present to carry forward Rashid Rehman’s legacy.
He also condemned the killing of Farzana Iqbal outside the Lahore High Court by her family members on Wednesday. Journalist Wajahat Masood said Pakistan was giving numerous sacrifices for its peace talks with the terrorists and children all over the country were dying by the dozens in vain. He also recited a poem in honour of the Joseph Colony attack victims. Senior lawyer and leftist Abid Hassan Minto said terrorism was a consequence of state inaction and the prevailing system of Pakistan was in need of a revolutionary change. He said state institutions had harboured terrorists and allowed them to carry out their brutal acts with legal impunity. He said political parties benefited from the status quo and only people could fix the flawed system. He said democracy was not only about votes and real power should lie with the country’s ordinary labourers and the impoverished. He also condemned elements within the legal community sympathetic towards religious extremists.
Pakistan Workers Confederation’s Rubina Jameel paid tribute to Rashid Rehman and said extremists were against the wellbeing of all citizens. She saluted Rehman’s work on behalf of the All Pakistan Trade Union Federation. She said Pakistan’s women would respond proactively to limits on their rights and were empowered enough to know when they were being deprived of their rights. Her colleague Khurshid Ahmed also condemned Rashid Rehman’s killing. Quami Awami Tehreek’s leader Ayaz Lateef Paleejo told the audience that he was happy to witness the people in the Punjab stand up against religious extremism. He said Allama Iqbal, Mirza Ghalib, and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were also once deemed ‘traitors’ and this attitude was highly condemnable. He said terrorism was rampant in the Punjab whereas Sindh was free of terrorism and did not serve as a breeding ground for religious extremists.
He said lawyers should also attend such events in great numbers. He said Pakistan’s youth should join the progressive movement to protect their future. Veteran journalist Khawar Naeem Hashmi said dictatorial elements in the country were silencing voices in the country and discouraging free speech in Pakistan. HRCP’s I A Rehman said young people should join in big numbers and carry Rehman’s fight for justice. He said it was a long fight and demanded patience from those waging a war for peace and progressive thought. Father Shahid Mairaj, meanwhile, said Pakistan’s Christian community is especially grateful for Rashid Rehman and said a culture of hatred had set afoot in the country. He said the truth would prevail in all circumstances and Rehman’s killers would be caught and tried for their brutal act. Central leader of the Awami National Party Afrayasab Khattak said his party had been particularly hit by terrorism and recalled the Pathan leader Bacha Khan’s non-violence movement in the KPK under General Zia-ul-Haq.
He said the roots of terror could be traced to the Zia years and today’s government was negotiating with the same terrorist groups. He said all political parties needed unity to deal with growing extremism. Former Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jehangir recalled Rashid Rehman as an enthusiastic activist willing to take on dangerous issues in interior Punjab. She said the state needed to protect its people. Lives cannot be compensated with a cheque, and the state needs to answer what it has done to protect human rights activists and polio workers, she said. She said the government should appoint a special prosecutor to fight Rehman’s case and make sure that the police are not inactive. She said a minority of extremist lawyers were disgracing the image of Pakistan’s legal community. At the end, the civil society passed a resolution calling for the arrest of Rehman’s killers and reiterated its fight against all those forces that want to take away fundamental civil and political rights from the people.