The murder of reason

The re­cent mur­der of hero­ic law­yer Rashid Rehman high­lights state com­plic­i­ty in pain­ful clari­ty.
Published May 18, 2014

The murder of reason

by Irfan Aslam

Only five bul­lets were nee­ded to si­lence Multan’s brav­est son, Rashid Rehman. Those who mourned his death were many: the weak and the des­ti­tute, sin­gle wom­en with­out fam­i­ly sup­port, land­less peas­ants, bon­ded la­bour­ers work­ing in brick kilns and farms, and of course, Junaid Hafeez and his fam­i­ly.

Languishing in a Sahiwal pris­on for more than a year, Junaid Hafeez had ar­rived at the Bahauddin Zakariya University with big dreams and a set of mo­ral and eth­i­cal val­ues he wan­ted to im­part to his stu­dents..

As Hafeez looks out of the jail cell to­day, one thing is clear: a lec­tur­er teach­ing stu­dents to push the en­ve­lope and think crit­i­cal­ly can no lon­ger find le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. No lon­ger does Rehman live, no lon­ger can the stu­dents be taught that the eth­ics of the land have been skewed to re­strict thought and in­qui­ry. There were on­ly five bul­lets, but there were count­less vic­tims.

Rashid Rehman: the Rashid Rehman, an ad­vo­cate and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) Multan task­force co­or­di­na­tor, was not just an­oth­er law­yer and rights ac­ti­vist. Rehman was a bea­con of hope for the many who could not af­ford or ob­tain coun­sel for one rea­son or the oth­er.

“Across Multan Katchery, it was known that Rashid Saheb would take up a case even if a lit­i­gant did not have a pen­ny with him or her. Even oth­er law­yers used to send such ca­ses to Rashid Saheb,” said a close aide to Rashid Rehman, who worked along him for many years but wan­ted to re­main anon­y­mous. He said Rashid used to re­main in of­fice un­til late night, some­thing his close friends would warn him against, es­pe­cial­ly af­ter he re­ceived threats. But he was a work­a­hol­ic and tru­ly dedi­ca­ted to his cause and so he ig­nor­ed any such ad­vice.

“Rashid Saheb was on the fore­front of the strug­gle to en­sure rights for peas­ants and bon­ded la­bour­ers. Last year, his book was pub­lish­ed on the rights of land ten­ants, ti­tled Zamino Ki Bandar Baant (Unjust Distribution of Land), and it de­scribes the sit­ua­tion of ten­ants and the in­jus­tice met­ed out to them,” he says, add­ing that Rashid Saheb re­mained ac­tive with Anjuman Mazareen in Multan, Sahiwal, Okara and the whole of south Punjab through­out his ca­reer. It was this spi­rit that made him take up the case of Junaid Hafeez who had been ac­cused of blas­phemy.

“His op­pos­ing law­yers said to him right in front of the judge dur­ing the pro­ceed­ings of the case that he won’t live to ap­pear at the next hear­ing. Rashid Saheb com­plained to the judge, who did not take no­tice of the threat. His kill­ing is a big loss to the poor and the down­trod­den of the re­gion,” Rehman’s close aide said.

Ghulam Fatima, sec­re­ta­ry gen­er­al of Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF-Pakistan), says Rehman re­mained in­volved in work­ing for bon­ded la­bour for dec­a­des. “Whenever we had any is­sue in south­ern Punjab, we al­ways sought help from Rashid Saheb, and he was al­ways avail­a­ble with­out tak­ing any fee,” says Fatima.

The BLLF chief re­cal­led that one time, she man­aged to get some bon­ded la­bour­ers re­leased through a bail­iff with the help of Rashid Rehman, but then star­ted re­ceiv­ing threats from kiln own­ers. “When I called him to tell him about the threats I was re­ceiv­ing, he said ‘it’s okay, even I am al­so re­ceiv­ing threats from the same peo­ple’,” she nar­rates.

Fatima says that when the Bonded Labour Liberation Act 1992 was be­ing for­mu­la­ted, Rehman gave his rec­om­men­da­tions for it which were in­cor­po­ra­ted in the Act. “Recently, be­fore the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment again sought our rec­om­men­da­tions, and Rehman, on our be­half, poin­ted out flaws and gave his le­gal in­put in the mat­ter,” she says.

Rights ac­ti­vist and law­yer, Asad Jamal, says that no­body was will­ing to take the case of Junaid Hafeez, es­pe­cial­ly af­ter the case of Shafqat and Shagufta Masih. After an­oth­er law­yer, Mudassar, who Junaid’s fa­ther had hired to de­fend his son, gave in to the threats is­sued by hard­lin­ers, some­one else was nee­ded to pur­sue the case; some­one with com­mit­ment.

“That’s when the HRCP and Rashid Rehman came for­ward to pur­sue the case, which was not mov­ing for­ward for more than a year. However, he star­ted re­ceiv­ing threats af­ter that,” Jamal says, al­leg­ing that be­sides re­ceiv­ing threats from oth­er law­yers, Tahaffuz-i-Namoos-i-Risalat al­so held a pro­test in front of his of­fice.

Deploring the state of jus­tice in the coun­try, Jamal says: “Rashid Rehman ob­jec­ted when, while in­dict­ing Hafeez, the judge re­fer­red to the books of a fa­mous Urdu fic­tion writ­er that were re­cov­ered from his room. However, his ob­jec­tion was ig­nor­ed.”

Jamal says that the FIR men­tions that Junaid Hafeez was op­er­at­ing two groups on Facebook: “So-Called Liberals of Pakistan” and “Mullah Munafiq”. Even though it was so easy to trace out where the groups were be­ing op­er­at­ed from, the po­lice did not probe the own­er­ship is­sue. The ri­dic­u­lous part is that both groups re­mained func­tion­al and con­tin­ued with up­dates even when Junaid Hafeez was in jail.

“After re­ceiv­ing threats, he looked con­cerned and while dis­cus­sing the is­sue with me he said it was get­ting too se­ri­ous. But he was nev­er re­luc­tant as he had a strong char­ac­ter,” Jamal says.

Reminiscing about Rashid Rehman’s past, he says, “He has been work­ing for the down­trod­den for more than last 20 years and faced threats many a time. He worked in the 1990s for brick kiln work­ers and re­ceived threats from the kiln own­ers. Besides, he pur­sued rape and hon­our kill­ing ca­ses but threats nev­er fright­ened him.”

Asad Jamal says that though Rashid Rehman had de­man­ded the gov­ern­ment pro­vide him se­cur­i­ty, which it failed to do — as it does in most ca­ses — but threats and per­se­cu­tion of the in­no­cent can­not be coun­tered by pro­vid­ing per­son­al se­cur­i­ty to in­di­vid­u­als.

“It is some­thing larg­er, harm­ing the whole so­cial fab­ric and the root of the is­sue is this law which is be­ing mis­used on a large scale. The state will have to deal with it,” ar­gues Jamal.

Talking about Rashid Rehman, HRCP Secretary General I.A. Rehman says the kill­ing of Rashid is a big loss for the com­mis­sion as he used to take care of the whole re­gion of southern Punjab up to Rahim Yar Khan. “After he re­ceived threats, we wrote to the gov­ern­ment and the po­lice and, de­spite ac­knowl­edg­ing the grav­i­ty of the sit­ua­tion, they did not do any­thing to pro­vide him se­cur­i­ty,” he says.

I. A. Rehman says the peo­ple can­not do any­thing to stop such hap­pen­ings. “The state and the gov­ern­ment will have to step in to stop the men­ace or the whole coun­try will be in a big trou­ble, in fact it al­ready is in a big trou­ble.”

Junaid Hafeez: scholar, teacher, prisoner

Junaid Hafeez is not just an­oth­er or­di­na­ry ac­cused — as in most of blas­phemy ca­ses. He is an ide­al­ist in a con­ser­va­tive or­tho­dox so­ci­ety which has no space for log­ic. Hailing from Rajanpur, he won the gold med­al in pre-med­i­cal in Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education DG Khan, stand­ing first in the board. In 2003, he joined King Edward Medical College to be­come a doc­tor, a dream of many of sci­ence stu­dents in the coun­try. “He was not in­ter­es­ted in pur­su­ing his med­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion. Instead, he was more in­ter­es­ted in lit­er­a­ture and so­cial sci­en­ces,” says one of his close friends who re­ques­ted not to be named.

In 2006, Hafeez left King Edward, went back to his re­gion and joined Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan to un­der­take a BA Hons in English Literature.

“The boy is a schol­ar. When I went to meet him, he had books with him, of phi­los­o­phy and lit­er­a­ture. One of the books I saw was of Tariq Rehman,” Zia says, add­ing that Hafeez is a teach­er and was teach­ing oth­er in­mates at the jail.

“It was when I watch­ed Dead Poets Society in my days at med­i­cal uni­ver­si­ty that I de­ci­ded to give up med­i­cine as a pro­fes­sion and opt­ed for a de­gree in English lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture. My in­ter­est in the sub­ject has been nur­tured by the texts I stud­ied like Love in the Time of Cholera, and the mov­ies I watch­ed such as Ijazat and Dil Se,” writes Junaid in his per­son­al state­ment that he sent to the Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi, US.

Hafeez was one of on­ly five stu­dents se­lec­ted for a high­ly-com­pe­ti­tive ex­change pro­gramme for America, where he stud­ied the­a­tre, pho­tog­ra­phy and American lit­er­a­ture.

For his MPhil the­sis, Hafeez chose to de­code the lay­ers of Pakistani mas­cu­lin­i­ty through an eth­no­graph­ic study of mas­cu­lin­i­ty in pop­u­lar cin­e­ma in Multan. He had al­so writ­ten four re­search pa­pers on cin­e­ma, fem­i­nism and Seraiki lit­er­a­ture and was work­ing on re­search on femin­ism, mas­cu­lin­i­ty and film. He had al­so trans­la­ted short sto­ries of South Punjab writ­ers in­to English and wan­ted to pub­lish an anthol­o­gy of his trans­la­ted works. He was a po­et as well.

Hafeez star­ted teach­ing at the BZU as a vis­it­ing lec­tur­er in 2011 while al­so teach­ing at the College of Design, Multan.

Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan
Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan

“Many of his col­lea­gues were not hap­py with him and he was al­so a vic­tim of peer pol­i­tics in his de­part­ment. However, the head of his de­part­ment sup­por­ted him in a hos­tile at­mos­phere, so his op­po­nents could not do any­thing to him,” says his friend, hint­ing at the ani­mos­i­ty which re­sul­ted in a right-wing re­li­gious group at the uni­ver­si­ty work­ing against him.

“He be­came a vic­tim of pol­i­tics at the de­part­ment. New va­can­cies were go­ing to open at the BZU English Department, and a group of right-wing stu­dents with help from those who did not want to see Junaid in the de­part­ment, im­pli­ca­ted him in the case,” says Afiya Zia, a hu­man rights ac­ti­vist, who met Junaid at Sahiwal jail af­ter his ar­rest.

“Most of blas­phemy ac­cused are im­pli­ca­ted in fake ca­ses. Most of the times, there are oth­er ul­te­ri­or mo­tives be­hind such ca­ses. The Facebook pa­ges that Junaid was ac­cused of op­er­at­ing con­tin­ued af­ter he was ar­res­ted and jailed,” she says.

“The boy is a schol­ar. When I went to meet him, he had books with him, of phi­los­o­phy and lit­er­a­ture. One of the books I saw was of Tariq Rehman,” Zia says, add­ing that Hafeez is a teach­er and was teach­ing oth­er in­mates at the jail. She says that though he is men­tal­ly a strong young man, but he too must be very con­cerned af­ter Rashid Rehman’s mur­der.

“The root of the is­sue is the law which is mis­used and abused to im­pli­cate peo­ple. This prac­tice should be stop­ped, oth­er­wise, so­ci­ety will have to pay a heavy price for it though we have al­ready paid a heavy price so far,” she says.

Hafeez’s friend says that he was quite re­li­gious as well. “Once he told me how to be a prac­tis­ing Muslim. ‘Start say­ing pray­ers dur­ing Ramazan, then it will be your hab­it’ he told me,” says his friend.

“Junaid has his own phil­o­soph­i­cal views and he is more in­clined to­wards Sufism but it does not mean he is non-re­li­gious. He is just more straight­for­ward and dar­ing,” his friend says.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 18th, 2014

‘The country is on a suicide mission’

By Zarrar Khuhro

Former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir, has seen many comrades fall to hatred and bigotry. In the wake of Rashid Rehman's murder, the prognosis for human rights defenders is not good: more insecurity, more threats and more deaths
Former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, Asma Jahangir, has seen many comrades fall to hatred and bigotry. In the wake of Rashid Rehman's murder, the prognosis for human rights defenders is not good: more insecurity, more threats and more deaths

How bad­ly will the mur­der of Rashid Rehman — the lat­est in a ser­ies of at­tacks on hu­man rights ac­ti­vists and es­pe­cial­ly those in­volved in de­fend­ing blas­phemy ac­cused — have a chill­ing ef­fect on ac­ti­vism as a whole?

The mur­der of Rashid is a mes­sage for law­yers to be se­lec­tive about the ca­ses they take up. Defending any­one ac­cused of blas­phemy will not be al­lowed by Islamist mil­i­tants, who kill with im­pun­i­ty. His mur­der fol­lowed the same pat­tern that groups who kill with im­pun­i­ty fol­low. First you kill and then you threat­en any­one else who may fol­low the same path. Pamphlets were dis­trib­uted in the Multan Bar Association, warn­ing that any­one who takes up the de­fence in ca­ses of blas­phemy will meet the same fate. It is high­ly de­mor­al­is­ing for hu­man rights ac­ti­vists who are al­ways at risk and the gov­ern­ment takes threats against them light­ly.

There is the oft-re­pea­ted man­tra of when­ev­er such an at­tack takes place, that this will not damp­en the strug­gle for hu­man rights and jus­tice. Do you think this is still true?

Space for hu­man rights work is shrink­ing by the day. This in­ci­dent will dis­cour­age young ac­ti­vists and blas­phemy ac­cused will not get any le­gal coun­sel at all. In any case, there is al­ways re­luc­tance to join the hu­man rights move­ment as those be­liev­ing in lib­er­al val­ues have al­ways been at the re­ceiv­ing end in this coun­try de­spite the fact that the po­si­tion they took vin­di­ca­ted them. For ex­am­ple, when lib­er­al Pakistanis ex­pressed the de­sire to end hos­til­i­ties with India and Afghanistan they were dub­bed as trai­tors. Now all ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties are tak­ing the same po­si­tion. Other ex­am­ples are the Hadood laws, hon­our kill­ings, sep­a­rate elec­tor­ates, mi­nor­i­ty rights, Balochistan. It was the lib­er­al ac­ti­vists who warned that the kill­ing of Akbar Bugti would add fuel to the in­sur­gen­cy and that blas­phemy laws will be mas­sive­ly mis­used, to name just two such ex­am­ples.

The track re­cord of the courts in pro­vid­ing a fair tri­al to those ac­cused of blas­phemy has been, in a word, abys­mal. Do you ev­er see this chang­ing?

One should not ex­pect a fair tri­al. After all, the bail for someone ac­cused of blas­phemy, who is pro­ven to be men­tal­ly chal­lenged and of an ad­vanced age could on­ly be se­cured at the su­preme court lev­el! Our courts in ef­fect al­low mobs of ul­tra right-wing law­yers and mul­lahs to fill the court room, and these mobs then pro­ceed to ter­ri­fy law­yers, wit­ness­es and even judg­es. This should be stop­ped. Also the gov­ern­ment has so far not been able to ar­rest the kill­ers of Rashid or the at­tack­ers of Hamid Mir. It has failed to pro­tect the lives of its citi­zens. In a coun­try where mem­bers of ban­ned or­gan­i­sa­tions and known ter­ro­rists are en­cour­aged to hold ral­lies in fa­vour of the coun­try's armed forces how can any­one be safe? It is a bra­zen de­fi­ance of peo­ple's se­cur­i­ty and of state se­cur­i­ty.

Is there a pat­tern to watch out for when it comes to at­tacks, ver­bal and phys­i­cal, against such ac­ti­vists in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists and me­dia per­sons? How of­ten does a ver­bal threat in fact lead to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence?

After Rashid's mur­der I urge all hu­man rights ac­ti­vists and jour­nal­ists to take these threats very se­ri­ous­ly. They start though let­ters and now text mes­sag­es and on so­cial me­dia us­ing the most dirty lan­guage and dan­ger­ous­ly false al­le­ga­tions pos­si­ble. They al­so watch you so you should keep your move­ments un­pre­dict­a­ble. If the threat is clear and made by iden­ti­fi­a­ble peo­ple then you may even need to re­lo­cate. You should al­so al­ways keep the po­lice in­formed — not that they can do any­thing, of course. You should write to the au­thor­i­ties and frank­ly do all that you can, but with the knowl­edge that the state is help­less. A for­mer PM and Governor's chil­dren have been kid­nap­ped by mil­i­tants and no one can do any­thing for those un­for­tu­nate young peo­ple. What was their fault?

This is a clichéd ques­tion, of course, but where can one pin the fail­ure of the state to pro­vide even a sem­blance of se­cur­i­ty to peo­ple who are quite lit­er­al­ly be­ing threat­ened with death? In this I mean both those ac­cused of blas­phemy and those de­fend­ing them.

Those who have a nexus with state ac­tors have as­sur­ed im­pun­i­ty. Others who aren’t that lucky re­al­ise that the sys­tem sim­ply does not work, so they have ef­fec­tive im­pun­i­ty be­cause of a dys­func­tion­al crim­i­nal le­gal sys­tem. And then of course there are re­por­ted ca­ses where the state has al­so got away quite of­ten with threats and mur­der. It has been re­cor­ded in the Supreme Court in the miss­ing per­sons’ case and the com­mis­sion on Salim Shahzad al­ludes to it as does the com­mis­sion on miss­ing peo­ple.

So what meas­ures can ac­tual­ly be tak­en in such a sit­ua­tion?

On the most ba­sic lev­el, we need to make an au­ton­o­mous pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor sys­tem and an au­ton­o­mous for­en­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion de­part­ment. We al­so need judg­es who are cou­ra­geous and ap­poin­ted on mer­it. But none of these ba­sic in­gre­di­ents are there at the mo­ment. Most im­por­tant­ly, we have to de­cide as a na­tion wheth­er we want to sur­ren­der our sov­er­eign­ty to Talibanisation or chal­lenge them col­lec­tive­ly? Watch the cir­cus go­ing on nowa­days; no gov­ern­ment can work if it is un­der con­stant threat from the es­tab­lish­ment who have pup­pets they can roll out in the streets and spread dis­in­for­ma­tion. A coun­try that can­not fight po­lio and deal with a law that is so ob­vi­ous­ly be­ing mis­used to set­tle scores can on­ly be pi­tied. When Pakistan’s his­to­ry will be ob­jec­tive­ly writ­ten it will be the most docu­men­ted case of a coun­try where treach­ery ruled and won. It’s no lon­ger a few mis­led in­di­vid­u­als, but the coun­try it­self that is on a sui­cide mis­sion. Only God can save us from our­selves.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 18th, 2014

The chilling effect

Why tell­ing the truth in the land of the pure is life-threat­en­ing

by Razeshta Setna

Last year, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights in­formed par­lia­ment about 8,648 rights vi­o­la­tions that had oc­cur­red across Pakistan. These in­clu­ded vi­o­lence against wom­en, sec­tar­i­an vi­o­lence and tar­get kill­ings, sex­u­al har­ass­ment and oth­er vi­o­la­tions that were re­por­ted to the po­lice. This fig­ure al­so in­clu­ded 141 ca­ses of miss­ing per­sons, 47 of which were from Balochistan, the Ministry sta­ted. However, rights vi­o­la­tions re­la­ted to the blas­phemy laws were not sta­ted as such, but what was no­ted in the list (and is open to in­ter­pre­ta­tion) was that there had been ‘20 mi­nor­i­ty-re­la­ted is­sues.’ There is a lack of state ac­knowl­edge­ment that un­pop­u­lar vic­tims of vi­o­la­tions need le­gal coun­sel, ad­vice and in many ca­ses, pro­tec­tion. But as mil­i­tant ideas and in­tol­er­ance be­come in­creas­ing­ly main­stream, it is hu­man rights de­fend­ers them­selves that are the tar­get of ex­trem­ist groups op­er­at­ing with im­pun­i­ty.

When I pro­vi­ded a safe-house for the gang-rape sur­vi­vor and her fa­ther dur­ing the court hear­ing, the po­lice filed a case against me for kid­nap­ping the wom­an and her fa­ther

Questioning the state’s ca­paci­ty and will to es­tab­lish the rule of law, Sam Zarifi, the Asia Pacific Regional Director at the International Commission of Jurists, says the coun­try is con­ced­ing space to ex­trem­ists. “A gov­ern­ment that can­not pro­tect its peo­ple is sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly fail­ing in its re­spon­si­bil­i­ty and can­not call it­self a sov­er­eign state,” he says. Zarifi be­lieves that when it comes to rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the le­gal com­mun­i­ty must unite and sign up to rep­re­sent un­pop­u­lar de­fend­ants need­ing le­gal as­sis­tance. But in an at­mos­phere in which ex­trem­ists threat­en and mur­der with im­pun­i­ty, this is eas­ier sug­ges­ted than im­ple­men­ted.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a credi­ble chroni­cler of rights vi­o­la­tions known to lob­by and in­ter­vene through the courts, fo­cu­ses on as­sis­tance for vic­tims of rights vi­o­la­tions; high­lights the is­sue of en­forced dis­ap­pear­an­ces, vi­o­lence against wom­en and mi­nor­i­ties and of­fers le­gal de­fense for those ac­cused of blas­phemy. It has paid a high price for its stance. In March 2011, Naeem Sabir Jamaldini, HRCP’s Khuzdar dis­trict co­or­di­na­tor was shot for his work re­port­ing on rights vi­o­la­tions and doc­u­ment­ing Baloch miss­ing per­sons; HRCP’s Pasni co­or­di­na­tor, Siddique Eido, was ab­duc­ted in 2010 in Gwadar and his body found in April 2011. Zarteef Khan Afridi, a teach­er and an HRCP ac­ti­vist in Khyber Agency since 1989, had been re­ceiv­ing threats from the Taliban. He re­fused to leave the dis­trict when he was kil­led in Jamrud in December 2011, says HRCP chair­per­son, Zohra Yusuf. He would ad­vo­cate the rights of wom­en and girls and had trained school teach­ers which won him the ha­tred of ex­trem­ist and ob­scur­ant­ist forces who op­posed his cri­tique of semi­na­ries. “The space for ra­tion­al de­bate is shrink­ing,” she says.

Yet an­oth­er le­gal ac­ti­vist who had worked with HRCP for over two dec­a­des lost his life ear­li­er this month. Rashid Rehman, known for his un­wav­er­ing com­mit­ment pro­vid­ing as­sis­tance to de­fend­ants with­out le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, had re­fused to suc­cumb to the threats. Rehman, gun­ned down in his Multan of­fice, was threat­ened in an open court for de­fend­ing a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor — pre­vi­ous­ly un­able to find a le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion for a year — in a blas­phemy case. He had al­so de­fen­ded Pakistan’s for­mer am­bas­sa­dor to the US in a fab­ri­ca­ted blas­phemy case in Multan. A 2012 study by the Islamabad-based think tank, the Center for Research and Security Studies shows an in­crease in blas­phemy ac­cu­sa­tions with 80 com­plaints in 2011, up from a sin­gle case in 2001. “Extremist groups are suc­cess­ful­ly tar­get­ing eth­nic and re­li­gious mi­nor­i­ties and any­body who dares to speak out in their de­fence, right up to a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter is tar­ge­ted, which means stra­te­gi­cal­ly iso­lat­ing these com­mun­i­ties so that they don’t have any al­lies,” Zarifi points out.

“Many be­lieve that some ac­cused don’t have a right to rep­re­sen­ta­tion by law­yers,” say Yusuf, cit­ing the mur­der of Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti who ac­quit­ted two Christian boys in a 1995 blas­phemy case. Bhatti, who had re­ceived nu­mer­ous death threats, was mur­dered in 1997.

Human rights groups have long cam­paigned against Pakistan’s blas­phemy laws, which car­ry a death pen­al­ty and are fre­quent­ly used to set­tle per­son­al scores and per­se­cute re­li­gious mi­nor­i­ties. Evidence is rare­ly pre­sen­ted in court and judg­es are re­luc­tant to hear ca­ses. There is no pen­al­ty for false ac­cu­sa­tions. Indeed, the scope of the law seems to be wid­en­ing, as seen in the re­cent ex­am­ple where the Punjab po­lice reg­is­tered a case of blas­phemy against 68 law­yers who pub­lic­ly pro­tes­ted af­ter a po­lice of­fi­cer de­tained one of their col­lea­gues.

As a law­yer who has de­fen­ded an ac­cused in a blas­phemy case ex­plains, the im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was shock when oth­er as­so­ci­ates heard he was in­volved in such pro­ceed­ings. “It was as if I de­served to be at­tacked [if that hap­pened] for pro­vid­ing le­gal as­sis­tance,” he re­calls. Speaking to Dawn on con­di­tion of ano­nym­i­ty, he says he was warned and rough­ed up by a group of law­yers with­in the prem­ises of the SC for his in­volve­ment. It is com­mon to hear of low­er courts con­vict­ing the ac­cused in blas­phemy ca­ses, some­times on lit­tle credi­ble evi­dence, due to the fear of mob vi­o­lence if there is no con­vic­tion.

“Blasphemy ca­ses are in a lea­gue of their own be­cause of the kind of emo­tions they evoke, of­ten fol­lowed by vi­o­lent vig­i­lante ac­tions. While le­gal­ly rep­re­sent­ing vul­ner­a­ble groups, there is pres­sure and in­tim­i­da­tion, but the in­se­cur­i­ty felt as an ad­vo­cate while de­fend­ing a blas­phemy case is un­like any­thing else,” says se­nior ad­vo­cate, Salman Raja.

Other hu­man rights work al­so evokes re­ac­tion from po­lit­i­cal­ly-backed per­pe­tra­tors. When Raja ad­vo­ca­ted for jus­tice for a 13-year-old vic­tim in Rawalpindi, he was warned to with­draw from the case in March 2012. This led the Chief Justice to or­der a se­cur­i­ty con­tin­gent for Raja and rights ac­ti­vist Tahira Abdullah for a year. Raja ex­plains that he in­ter­vened with Abdullah’s help en­sur­ing that the SC took suo mo­to no­tice of the case and an FIR was lodged against the ac­cused. “I rush­ed to the court and filed a pe­ti­tion when I read the story in Dawn about the pros­e­cu­tor gen­er­al ac­quit­ting the ac­cused per­sons. The rape sur­vi­vor and her fam­i­ly had been threat­ened by the pow­er­ful per­pe­tra­tors to stay si­lent and ac­cept com­pen­sa­tion. They were very poor and afraid of be­ing seen talk­ing to a law­yer. The girl told us she had been gang-ra­ped. The IG told me in court that I was wast­ing time. When I pro­vi­ded a safe-house for the gang-rape sur­vi­vor and her fa­ther dur­ing the court hear­ing, the po­lice filed a case against me for kid­nap­ping the wom­an and her fa­ther.” Raja says the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion was so shod­dy that, with­out evi­dence, there was no case. “In 99 per cent of rape ca­ses the ac­cused walk away free. There is no for­en­sic evi­dence that links the ac­cused to the crime. Rape has be­come a mat­ter to be ne­go­ti­ated be­tween the vic­tim and the ac­cused with the po­lice mere­ly bro­ker­ing the deal.”

Human rights work is un­like hu­man­i­tar­i­an work when re­sults ap­pear quick­ly. It takes dec­a­des of cour­age and re­sil­ience with ac­ti­vists and groups nee­ded to keep tap­ping away for the de­sired change. “The HRCP have a track re­cord of stand­ing with the op­pressed. They have had to play the role of an op­po­si­tion po­lit­i­cal par­ty in Pakistan through con­sis­tent ad­vo­ca­cy al­though they are old-fash­ioned and work with limi­ted re­sour­ces,” says jour­nal­ist Mohammad Hanif, who docu­men­ted the sto­ries of miss­ing per­sons in The Baloch who is not miss­ing any­more. Rights de­fend­ers like the ac­ti­vists who cam­paign for miss­ing per­sons, pol­i­ti­cians who ad­vo­cate for the rights of the mar­gin­al­ised mi­nor­i­ty and the ad­vo­cates who pro­vide un­pop­u­lar de­fend­ants with le­gal as­sis­tance —wheth­er it is the for­mer President Musharraf or blas­phemy ac­cused or rape vic­tims — are in­creas­ing­ly at risk. The re­sult is that, while stand­ing up for hu­man rights re­mains a no­ble cause, it is al­so in­creas­ing­ly dan­ger­ous.

Equally im­por­tant­ly, it is it­self a right un­der in­ter­na­tion­al pro­tec­tion placed in December 1998 un­der the spe­cial pro­tec­tion of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­mun­i­ty, ex­plains Angelika Pathak, a se­nior re­search­er at Amnesty International.

“Pakistan, as a mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­mun­i­ty, com­mit­ted it­self to pro­tect­ing and safe­guard­ing the rights of hu­man rights de­fend­ers when the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adop­ted. It en­tered in­ter­na­tion­al le­gal ob­li­ga­tions to en­sure the rights to life, the se­cur­i­ty of the per­son, to free­dom from tor­ture and ar­bi­tra­ry ar­rest and de­ten­tion and from en­forced dis­ap­pear­ance when it rati­fied the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture in 2010; such com­mit­ment al­so in­cludes the ob­li­ga­tion to ex­er­cise due dil­i­gence in pro­tect­ing any­one, in­clud­ing hu­man rights de­fend­ers, against abu­ses by pri­vate per­sons,” she adds.

In prac­tice, few of these com­mit­ments are hon­our­ed. When look­ing for ways to en­sure vic­tims ac­cused in blas­phemy ca­ses are giv­en ac­cess to jus­tice, Salman Raja sug­gests the need to think along the lines of the ma­fia tri­als in Italy that were trans­fer­red from or­di­na­ry courts to se­cret lo­ca­tions with law­yers and judg­es whose iden­ti­ties were pro­tec­ted. It would be rad­i­cal, he con­cedes, but with an ef­fec­tive wit­ness pro­tec­tion pro­gramme this ap­proach could ad­min­is­ter jus­tice with­out fear. Measures to pro­tect rights de­fend­ers against abu­ses and in­ves­ti­gate in­stan­ces of such abu­ses brought to its no­tice with a view to bring­ing per­pe­tra­tors to jus­tice is some­thing the gov­ern­ment has sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly ig­nor­ed and so to fight in­jus­tice many more de­fend­ers will risk their lives.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 18th, 2014

All honourable men

By Nazish Brohi

The hon­our­a­ble ones are com­fort­a­bly in the nu­cleus of pow­er. Whatever else they may or may not be on the same page about, they unite in a fra­ter­ni­ty — the Brotherhood of the Ghairat Brigade — when it comes to pro­tect­ing our hal­lowed sov­er­eign­i­ty.

Every time the state fails in pro­tect­ing its citi­zens, or is com­plic­it in per­se­cu­tion of them, the po­lit­i­cal le­giti­ma­cy of its sov­er­eign­ty gets cor­ro­ded.

With their vig­i­lance, we have been pro­tec­ted against Raymond Davis, Haqqani’s Memos, Kerry Lugar’s in­cur­sion in­to South Punjab, SEAL in­cur­sions in­to Abbotabad and US op­er­at­ed drones. Citizens of Pakistan are now free to be hon­o­ra­bly kil­led by sec­tar­i­an mil­i­tants tar­get­ing Shias and mod­er­ates; by Taliban ji­ha­dis tar­get­ing dis­sent­ers from their world view; by vig­i­lante groups whose faith gets shak­en at the slight­est pre­text or prov­o­ca­tion; and in­deed, by the state it­self. The dis­tance be­tween hon­our and dis­hon­our is de­ter­mined by whose weap­on one is kil­led by, it seems.

Because what the guards of hon­or over­look is that sov­er­eign­ty ne­ces­si­tates a mo­ral im­per­a­tive on the state, which is to pro­tect citi­zens in­side its ter­ri­to­ry. The so­cial con­tract, through which in­di­vid­u­als sub­mit to the au­thor­i­ty of rul­ers in ex­change for pro­tec­tion, is the mech­a­nism that be­stows po­lit­i­cal le­giti­ma­cy on re­po­si­to­ries of sov­er­eign pow­er. Every time the state fails in pro­tect­ing its citi­zens, or is com­plic­it in per­se­cu­tion of them, the po­lit­i­cal le­giti­ma­cy of its sov­er­eign­ty gets cor­ro­ded.

While le­gal­ly rep­re­sent­ing vul­ner­a­ble groups, there is pres­sure and in­tim­i­da­tion, but the in­se­cur­i­ty felt as an ad­vo­cate while de­fend­ing a blas­phemy case is un­like any­thing else

Why then should citi­zens not sim­ply dis­pense with this ar­ti­fice? Consider the sig­nals that em­a­nate from the state it­self. Children get­ting crip­pled with po­lio and health work­ers get­ting kil­led did not cause pan­ic as ne­go­tia­tions with the per­pe­tra­tors con­tin­ued, till the World Health Organisation wiel­ded a stick and now there are emer­gen­cy cor­rec­tives. It took the European Union’s threats to place a mor­a­to­ri­um on cap­i­tal pun­ish­ments. It took the US Congressional hear­ing on Balochistan that forced the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to look in the south­west di­rec­tion. It took in­ter­na­tion­al threats be­fore the forced dec­la­ra­tion from Pakistan that it was il­le­gal­ly trans­fer­ring nu­cle­ar tech­nol­o­gy. It took the asi­nine but mem­o­ra­ble ‘with us or against us’ ul­ti­ma­tum from the US President be­fore we de­ci­ded to do some­thing, how­ev­er nom­i­nal, about home­grown Jihadi or­gan­i­sa­tions. All these were im­por­tant hu­man rights and civ­il rights is­sues. The on­ly hope many per­se­cu­ted citi­zens of Pakistan have is to claim asy­lum and pro­tec­tion from oth­er gov­ern­ments of oth­er coun­tries be­cause their own state can­not or will not pro­tect them. Why should peo­ple then be ves­ted in the sov­er­eign­ty dis­course? When the state is not even will­ing to col­lect tax­es due to it on its own with­out it be­ing a loan con­di­tion­al­i­ty?

This is not to as­sume that oth­er coun­tries have the best in­ter­est of Pakistanis at their heart, but to ac­knowl­edge that while they may not, nei­ther does the Pakistani state. Because mean­while, the very peo­ple who could of­fer the coun­try a way out of this mo­rass, who in­ves­ted their lives in ed­u­cat­ing young­er gen­er­a­tions and en­a­bling those at the mar­gins of so­ci­ety have been sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly tar­ge­ted and kil­led such as Parveen Rehman, the di­rec­tor of Orangi Pilot Project; Dr. Farooq Khan, Vice Chancellor of Swat University; Baloch schol­ar Saba Dashtyari; Muhammad Yousuf, lec­tur­er at NED University; Zarteef Afridi, gov­ern­ment school teach­er in Khyber Agency and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­ti­vist Nisar Baloch. This is in ad­di­tion to tar­geted kill­ings of scores of Shia law­yers, doc­tors, teach­ers and oth­er pro­fes­sio­nals in Karachi and count­less lead­ers and peace ac­ti­vists in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa — in fur­ther ad­di­tion to the nu­mer­ous stu­dent lead­ers and edu­ca­ted youth who have ‘dis­ap­peared’ from Balochistan.

The re­cent mur­der of hero­ic law­yer Rashid Rehman, an­nounced in ad­vance and de­fen­ded through pam­phlets post kill­ing, high­lights state com­plic­i­ty in pain­ful clari­ty. This in­spira­tion­al fig­ure was kil­led by ‘un­known peo­ple’ for de­fend­ing Junaid Hafeez, a uni­ver­si­ty lec­tur­er on tri­al for an im­plau­si­ble charge of blas­phemy. The state is not just re­spon­si­ble for al­low­ing a law on stat­utes that is so open to mis­use, but al­so for not giv­ing Rehman the pro­tec­tion when it was known he was un­der threat. Above all it is re­spon­si­ble for crim­i­nal short­sight­ed­ness. While the div­i­dends for re­mov­al of the blas­phemy law may be mar­gin­al and prob­lem­at­ic (let’s ad­mit it, there is a nar­row con­stit­u­en­cy for it), it is sheer stu­pid­i­ty to not re­al­ise how blas­phemy re­la­ted lynch­ings harm the very no­tion of state sov­er­eign­ty.

As laws in Pakistan pro­fess to be groun­ded in Islam, the source of the law takes prec­e­dence over the con­tents of the law. Combined with un­checked vig­i­lant­ism, an ‘au­ton­o­mous cit­i­zen­ship’ that en­a­bles col­lec­tive pre­medi­ta­ted use of force, fo­ments a ‘law im­ple­men­ta­tion drive’ where the drive con­tra­venes the law it­self. Until the rule of law is se­cu­lar­ised, this di­lem­ma will con­tin­ue.

The im­pun­i­ty the state al­lows to non-state ac­tors is in­ver­se­ly pro­por­tion­ate to the state’s mo­nop­o­ly of vi­o­lence, which con­tin­ues to re­cede. In ex­tend­ing this im­pun­i­ty, the state is slow poi­son­ing it­self.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 18th, 2014