July Issue 2014
In Memoriam: Rashid Rehman
It is true that the best among us die young. And so it was with Rashid Rehman, the courageous lawyer who dedicated his life to helping the powerless and the oppressed. He was finally killed by an assassin’s bullet; a grim reminder that the side armed with Kalashnikovs, rocket launchers, grenades and suicide jackets is winning this war, while the other side is lighting candles in memory of the dead and holding demonstrations in front of press clubs. Meanwhile, the state is nowhere to be seen.
Rashid Rehman was a committed human rights activist and an energetic lawyer, determined to help the exploited and the voiceless. It was thus not surprising that he decided to defend blasphemy-accused, Junaid Hafeez, a professor at Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University. When Rashid and his colleague, Allah Dad, appeared before a judge on April 9, to present their arguments for the acquittal of the accused, at the Multan Central Jail where the trial was taking place, three persons threatened him in the presence of the judge. “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist anymore,” they said. Rashid drew the judge’s attention to the threat but, not surprisingly, the judge remained silent. What was surprising, however, and unfortunate, was the silence of the state and his own colleagues in the legal community as he informed the District Bar Association, the Supreme Court Bar Association, the police, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and many other friends about the threat to his life, within 24 hours of it being made.
Just three hours before he was killed, I received an email from Rashid, addressed to many of his friends. It read:
“I am not afraid. The media is still [in]flaming the issue by reporting a baseless and one-sided story.
The new directive issued by the vampires is that the university administration shall act according to their wishes. In the syndicate of the Bahauddin Zakariya University, 2/3 members are fanatics. The VC is so weak that he has given jobs to different people at the direction of this group. All the persons sitting [there] have no regular source of income; they are not paying any tax[es] to the government. Now they have all decided to kill me. In case anything happens to me, even accidentally, all these [sh]ould be [held] responsible [for] my murder.”
Rashid tried to file an FIR against the people who had threatened him with death but, unfortunately, the FIR was not registered. Later, along with some other persons, these two individuals addressed a press conference and threatened Rashid again.
I doubt the accused will ever be arrested. Or that the law will take its course. We continue lighting candles, clicking ‘like’ on Facebook, retweeting and forwarding SMSs to condemn the murder. But what difference will this make?
The truth is that Rashid was a total misfit in our society. Extremely courageous, he was a born rebel. He never hesitated to say and do what he considered right, rarely caring about the consequences. We worked together on numerous projects and whenever Rashid had to travel to Islamabad from Multan, he always took the bus. Even when the sponsors offered to provide him with an air ticket. “Why waste money on air-travel when the bus is so convenient?” he would say.
During the lawyers’ agitation in 2007, for the restoration of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Rashid was arrested and sent to Attock District Jail. I went to visit him there and was shocked to find that he was lodged in ‘C Class,’ when he was entitled to ‘B Class.’ I asked the jail superintendent to transfer Rashid to ‘B,’ and he agreed. But Rashid refused to be transferred unless all his other lawyer colleagues were transferred along with him.
It is sad to see the life of someone so humane and caring cut short so brutally for making the mistake of wanting to save the life of a learned professor by the self-appointed custodians of morality who were baying for his blood. Rashid has been silenced forever and one wonders whether any other lawyer will be brave enough to rise to the challenge of defending the professor, who has the sword of religious bigots hanging over his head.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s June 2014 issue under the headline, “The Good Die Young.”