Pakistan: ‘The country is on a suicide mission’- Asma Jehangir

Dawn: 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.

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Categories: Asia

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