Pakistani attorney and human rights advocate Rashid Rehman was killed by two unknown assailants on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. According to reports, the assailants entered Rehman’s office where he was meeting with two colleagues and fired multiple shots. Rehman was shot at least three times and died at the scene, while his colleagues were injured and taken to hospital.
Rehman served as defense counsel for Junaid Hafeez, an adjunct lecturer at the Bahauddin Zakariya University who has been detained on blasphemy charges for over a year. In the weeks leading up to his assassination, Rehman reported that he had received multiple death threats, including threats made directly against him while he was in court, demanding that he drop his defense of Hafeez. The threats reportedly motivated the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, where Rehman was a coordinator, to write the Pakistani central government expressing concern for his safety. Rehman had taken up the case in 2013 when previous defense counsel withdrew after similar threats.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the assassination of defense counsel for an imprisoned scholar. In addition to the deprivation of the right to life of the victim and harms to the others injured, their families and associates, an attack on defense counsel deprives defendants due process and a fair trial. Where the defendant is a scholar detained for nonviolent expressive activity, as in this case, an attack on defense counsel also undermines academic freedom by denying the scholar a full and fair defense and sending a message of intimidation throughout the university community and society. Recognizing these multiple harms, SAR reminds state authorities of their obligations to protect higher education communities and their members against outside interference and violence, including by ensuring physical safety, due process of law in any proceedings, representation by qualified counsel who are themselves protected from violence and intimidation, and holding perpetrators of violent attacks accountable.
UPDATE: This is an update to an earlier report. To view, please click here.