Pakistan lawyers strike to mourn colleague

2014-05-08 10:55
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Multan - Lawyers in the central Pakistani city of Multan went on strike on Thursday to mourn a colleague who was shot dead for defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy.

Gunmen stormed the office of defence lawyer Rashid Rehman on Wednesday evening and started firing indiscriminately, shooting him and two of his associates. Rehman, 50, was pronounced dead in hospital.

"We are observing a strike and no lawyer will appear in any court today to mourn and protest the killing of our colleague," Sher Zaman Qureshi, president of the District Bar Association Multan, told AFP.

"We demand that the killers of Rashid Rehman should be arrested immediately," Qureshi said.

He added that Rehman had told the association he had received death threats and they had asked the police to provide security, but the request was declined.

"Rashid Rehman had informed us that he was being threatened by various people to stop defending the blasphemy case, otherwise he will be killed," Qureshi said.

Rehman was representing Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University who is accused of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed in March last year.

Hafeez was known at the university for his liberal views and the blasphemy case was registered after pressure from right-wing student groups, according to a student who did not wish to be named.

Blasphemy laws

An official at the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that for a year, no lawyer was prepared to take up the case over fears of attacks from extremist religious groups.

But Rehman, who was also a rights activist and co-ordinator of the HRCP, decided to defend Hafeez.

During the first hearing in March this year, which took place inside a prison for security reasons, Rehman received threats from the complainant's lawyers.

"During the hearing the lawyers of the complainant told Rehman that he wouldn't be present at the next hearing as he would not be alive," said the HRCP in a statement issued after the incident in March.

Rehman was threatened in the presence of the judge, according to the HRCP.

Pakistan has strict laws against defaming Islam - including the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Mohammed - and rights campaigners say they are often used to settle personal disputes.

A recent report from a US government advisory panel said Pakistan used blasphemy laws more than any other country in the world, listing 14 people on death row and 19 others serving life sentences for insulting Islam.
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