Salmaan Taseer lost his life in January,2011 because he was brave enough to challenge the draconian Blasphemy Law present in Pakistan. His assasin was garlanded by lawyers in Rawalpindi District Court. The Judge who sentenced Mr. Taseer’s assasin had to flee Pakistan to save his life. Salmaan Taseer’s party distanced itself from his position and any space present for a logical discourse on blasphemy law vanished after Mr. Taseer’s brutal murder. Blasphemy-related deaths and vigilante actions in Pakistan have multiplied in number since 2011. The most recent victim was Mr. Rashid Rehman, a lawyer and member of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan(HRCP).
Mr. Rashid was representing Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Multan’s Bahauddin Zikriya University(BZU). Junaid Hafeez is a Fulbright Scholar and his rapid ascension in academia ruffled more than a few feathers. Mr. Junaid promoted liberalism, equality and feminism among his students. He was also active on a facebook group with similar agenda. 0n 13th march 2013, pamphlets were distributed by students of English department at BZU, belonging to right-wing fascist student group, Islami Jamiat Tulaba(IJT). The pamphlets asserted that Mr. Junaid was a blasphemer because he was administrator of a facebook group where an anonymous person posted blasphemous comments about Islam’s holiest personalities. The pamphlets(and the dimwits who wrote those) were alleging “guilt by association”.
Following the pamphlet distribution, a mob gathered inside the university premises and later an FIR(First Information Report) was registered at a nearby police station. Mr. Junaid was arrested on these flimsy charges and he is currently present behind bars, for a crime he never even committed.
Enter Rashid Rehman. Mr.Rashid had dealt with cases related to human rights violations and he took this case on humanitarian basis. Mr. Rashid had to face threats since the first hearing of this case from the so-called Tehreek-e-Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat(TTNR), or “Movement to Protect Honor of Holy Prophet”. Members of the clergy have formed sham associations like this since the inception of Pakistan, to claim political mileage and to carve out a space for their retrogressive brand of politics.
Rashid Rehman took the threats seriously and informed the district authorities about those threats and applied for additional security measures.
On 7th May, 2014, Dawn reported,
“Human Rights Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was gunned down by unidentified attackers in Multan, late on Wednesday night.Initial reports suggest that Khan was targeted by two gunmen inside his office at Kachehri Chowk.Sources told Dawn.com that two clean-shaven young men barged into Advocate Khan’s office and shot him dead. Advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was a coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). The senior lawyer was defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy and had complained that he had been receiving threats on his life.”
IJT goons have a history of inciting violence against minorities and those who stand up for rights of minorities. In 1974, the Anti-Ahmaddiya campaign across Pakistan was led by IJT and resulted in loss of lives and ultimately, declaration of Ahmadis as Non-Muslims by the National Assembly through a constitutional amendment. Barelvi groups such as TTNR have sprung up in the last few decades, and have adopted the language of violence as much as their Deobandi counterparts.
Mr. Rashid’s assasination has been mourned by the few liberals left in the country and has sent a shockwave of fear across the blogosphere. Anyone who opposes Blasphemy Law, or the concept behind the law, or anyone who even defends people who have been accused of Blasphemy, are in danger of losing their lives. The message which is to be learnt from this incident: Shut Up and Carry On with your miserable lives.
Will the killers of Rashid Rehman be brought to justice? Who will ensure the writ of state in this matter? For How long will the state abdicate its responsibility of protecting its citizens from murderous zealots? The future is bleak, there is very little hope left for sane, rational voices in this country.