The legal profession this week lost one of our best and bravest. Pretending to be potential clients in a matrimonial case, two people entered the law firm of Rashid Rehman Khan and shot him to death. Rashid Rehman, a coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), had faced death threats for years after he courageously represented a university professor accused of blasphemy. Unable to kill the accused, Islamic extremists appear to have now killed the lawyer. Rehman never flinched in his commitment to the rule of law and to this country.
Pakistan’s continued prosecution of people for expressing their views of faith remains one of the great outrages of our generation. Pakistan is one of our allies that has worked with the Obama Administration to create a new international blasphemy standard. The continued crackdown of anti-religious speech is part of its long-standing blasphemy abuses. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.
We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
The case involving Rehman is typical and disgraceful. Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Multan’s Bahauddin Zakariya University was accused of defaming the prophet Mohammed on social media last year. No one would represent the professor until Rehman stepped forward. He was greeted at court with threats against his life. Three lawyers representing the complainant confronted him and reportedly one told him “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist anymore.” Notably, these threats were reportedly made in front of a judge who took no action against those making the threats — an outrageous violation of every principle under the rule of law.
Pakistan (one of our largest recipients of aid) continues to jail people who simply express their faith or views on religion.
There are at least 16 people in Pakistan are on death row for blasphemy and in 2012 the Center for Research and Security Studies found that more than 50 people accused of blasphemy have been lynched since 1990.
This brave lawyer is now dead and the judge who took no action on the threats continues to sit on cases and those lawyers who allegedly threatened him continue to practice law. Putting aside our earlier work on an international blasphemy standard, the question is why we continue to send billions to countries that aggressively fight the core civil liberties that defines not just this country but the rule of law. The death of this extraordinary man is a disgrace not just to Pakistan but those who dismiss blasphemy prosecutions as simply some local or domestic concern. It is not just the denial of due process but the denial of free speech and free exercise — rights that should be guaranteed to all as a basic matter of human rights.
Source: ABA Journal