Nation mourns rights icon I.A. Rehman

Published April 13, 2021
Funeral prayers for rights activist I.A. Rehman being offered. — White Star
Funeral prayers for rights activist I.A. Rehman being offered. — White Star

LAHORE: Leaders from across the political spectrum, several civil society members and cultural bodies mourned the loss of the country’s most prolific and iconic journalist and a long-time human rights champion, Ibn Abdur Rehman, commonly known as I.A. Rehman, who passed away here on Monday morning.

Rehman sahib was 90 and suffering from various health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

The HRCP, in a statement, said it was devastated at the loss of its honorary spokesperson and former secretary general. Rehman served as the commission’s director from 1990 to 2008 before being elected its secretary general in 2008 -- a post he held till 2016. He was also a co-founder of the Pakistan-India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, a bureau member of South Asians for Human Rights and former chairperson of the South Asian Forum for Human Rights.

Most recently, Mr Rehman served as a member of the working group on torture and terrorism instituted by the World Organisation Against Torture, and as patron of the People’s Commission for the Protection of Minorities’ Rights in Pakistan. He also received Nuremberg city’s International Human Rights Award in 2003 and the Magsaysay Award for Peace in 2004.

Political, cultural, social segments send in condolence messages

The HRCP statement called Mr Rehman a titan of human rights, saying that his integrity, conscience and compassion were unparalleled. He was one of the few voices to oppose military action in former East Pakistan in 1971 and was dismissed from service for trade union activities and detained for his views and work for civil liberties during Gen Ziaul Haq’s martial law.

In his 70 years of journalism, his writing ran the gamut from film, literature and history to politics and human rights – subjects he tackled with an intellectual clarity and dry wit that remained as sharp and rigorous till his last column. Few people in Pakistan and beyond could match the depth and breadth of his advocacy against enforced disappearances, the death penalty and bonded labour, or his unwavering support for the rights of women, children, and religious and ethnic minorities, the statement said.

“Even after his retirement from the HRCP, he remained a constant source of wisdom and advice, and a mentor to many. We will carry his legacy forward as he would have wished us to,” it added.

HRCP Chairperson Hina Jilani said: “I.A. Rehman leaves behind a strong legacy of speaking truth to power in a way that not only persuaded others of the value of respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, but also conveyed to those he criticised how damaging their role could be for the most vulnerable members of society.”

Secretary General Harris Khalique called Mr Rehman an “irreplaceable public intellectual” who lent his voice to the voiceless and was a beacon of hope for the oppressed. “His human values, political insight, vast knowledge and depth of wisdom informed and educated all who worked with him in Pakistan in particular and South Asia in general,” he added.

Condolence messages poured in from as many segments of society as multi-dimensional IA Rehman’s work was.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Pakistan had lost a true icon. “A staunch advocate and activist for human rights and an intellectual, Rehman sahib leaves behind a rich legacy that speaks of tolerance, inclusion, equality and dignity.”

Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted that Mr Rehman was a “unique personality... who stood by & struggled steadfastly for what he believed in”.

Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar paid tributes to the services of Mr Rehman and prayed that God rests the departed soul in eternal peace.

Punjab Senior Minister Abdul Aleem Khan said Rehman sahib’s services to the country and the nation would be remembered for a long time. His name had its own place in the field of human rights and his efforts need to be continued in the future. He also prayed for the bereaved family.

Punjab Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Ijaz Alam Augustine said the strong role of the late Mr Rehman will always be remembered as he rendered invaluable services for humanity and every segment of society acknowledged his selfless efforts.

PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz tweeted: “I deeply grieve the passing of Mr. I.A. Rehman. He lived a remarkable and inspiring life. A rare icon of rights and freedoms. May Allah bless his soul and give his loved ones the fortitude to move forward. He will be missed every time and each time our liberties are trampled.”

Former information minister Pervaiz Rashid said Mr Rehman’s writings were a beacon for his readers and a ray of hope for the oppressed classes of society. He was a leader of those who wanted to stay on the right side of history.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari thought “the country has lost the most effective voice for not only human rights but freedom of expression as well in Rehman sb. The state and society would never forget his contributions. The PPP and all its workers mourn the death of the icon”.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted: “Grieved at the loss of IA Rehman sb. He spent his life fighting for the rights of others. He spoke truth to power – without compromise, without fear. He did not seek to appease. This nation is poorer for having lost him. May the Almighty Allah keep him in eternal peace!”

PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Punjab Assembly Speaker Chaudhry Parvez Elahi condoled with the bereaved family and prayed for them. They said the services of I.A. Rehman would be remembered for a long time.

The Lahore Literary Festival also mourned the loss “of a great man who valiantly struggled for human rights, rule of law and democracy in Pakistan”.

World Punjabi Conference Chairman Fakhar Zaman said Mr Rehman was one of the few journalists of Pakistan who enjoyed popularity in India as well. He worked on the human rights front “tirelessly and without fatigue” always with a smile.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists termed the death a great loss to the country and to all those who defended human rights, worked for peace, struggled for democracy and held the torch of enlightenment, tolerance and brotherhood.

All Pakistan Newspaper Employees Confederation Chairman Irfan Ali and Secretary General Mansoor Malik said Mr Rehman was a sane, progressive and consistent voice on human, civil, social, minorities and gender rights. His services to the profession and the country would be remembered for a long time.

Ajoka, whose advisory board Mr Rehman was on, mourned his death as a huge loss for those who believed in a democratic, peaceful and secular society. A statement said he was a mentor to Ajoka founders Madeeha Gauhar and Shahid Nadeem. His contribution to the human rights movement, Indo-Pak peace and promotion of progressive culture was unparalleled.

Faiz Ghar also posted a message on their social media platforms mourning the loss of one of the dearest members of its Board of Directors and a “protégé of the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz”.

National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser and Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri also conveyed their heartfelt grief to the family of Mr Rehman.

Recognising his efforts for Pakistan and its people, they said the activist rendered valuable contributions to and made tireless efforts for the protection of human rights and freedom of the press. His services will be remembered for a long time.

Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2021

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