NEW YORK – The Human Rights Watch has asked the government of Pakistan to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the May 7, 2014 killing of Rashed Rahman, a human rights activist and a lawyer.
The rights watchdog said that those responsible should be fully and promptly prosecuted. Rehman's killing, an apparent reprisal for his willingness to represent people charged under blasphemy law, underscores urgent need for the government to repeal that law, it said.
Two unidentified gunmen killed Rehman in his office in Multan. Several weeks earlier, Rehman had been threatened with dire consequences for defending Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University who was facing prosecution under the blasphemy law.
“Pakistan's vaguely worded blasphemy law has led to discrimination, persecution, and murder since its imposition almost three decades ago. It should be reformed or repealed immediately,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“It is appalling that lawyers who defend rights of people charged with blasphemy should themselves become the targets of deadly violence,” he added. Section 295-C of Pakistan's Penal Code makes death penalty effectively mandatory for blasphemy, though to date there have been no executions for the crime.
At least 18 people are currently on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, while another 20 are serving life sentences. In recent years, a campaign of high-profile assassinations, threats, and intimidation by extremists has had a chilling effect on efforts to reform the blasphemy law, Human Rights Watch said.
“As things stand, even an accusation of blasphemy can mean prison, death, or exile. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif needs to end his silence on the blasphemy law and act to ensure all Pakistanis can live free from fear and discrimination,” Adams said.