Thursday, May 29, 2014

MEREDITH TAX - Rashid Rehman: chronicle of a death foretold // FREE JUNAID HAFEEZ!

Defenders of Pakistan's blasphemy laws say the rule of law prevents rule by mob.  The May 7 murder of human rights lawyer Rashid Rehman - to prevent him from defending a young professor accused of blasphemy - shows the hypocrisy of such a defence,


On April 9, Rashid Rehman, director of the Multan office of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), appeared in Multan Central Jail on behalf of Junaid Hafeez, an adjunct teacher at the local university who was falsely accused of blasphemy.  The trial was held inside the jail because of the risk that Hafeez would be killed if it were held in a building open to the public. 
Rehman moved that the case be dismissed as fabricated.   As he stood before the judge, two prosecution lawyers and an unidentified third party approached and said that, if he did not drop the case, "You will not come to court next time because you will not exist any more."  Rehman called the judge's attention to the threat but the judge did nothing.  The next day Rehman and the HRCP appealed for police protection but the police did nothing.  In a BBC interview the next week, Rehman said that defending someone accused of blasphemy was like walking into the jaws of death.  “There is fanaticism and intolerance in society, and such people never consider whether their accusation is right or wrong,” he said. “People kill for 50 rupees. So why should anyone hesitate to kill in a blasphemy case?”
On May 7, as Rehman was conferring in his office with a colleague and a client, two gunmen burst in.  They shot all three.  Rehman died instantly; the others are still hospitalized. 
These crimes were committed to preserve rule by mob, for if people accused of blasphemy cannot get legal representation, a fair trial is impossible, and the only justice is vigilante justice.  Thus Pakistan's extremist religious parties—including the ruling party, Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League—will do almost anything to preserve the blasphemy laws. 
British colonial laws against "offense" are common throughout South Asia, and are often used to silence any criticism of religion, but in Pakistan blasphemy laws were expanded and codified during the military dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq(1977-1988), who used Saudi legal advisors for his "Islamization" campaign.Shemeem Abbas describes the process in Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws: From Islamic Empires to the Taliban
"In Pakistan the sharia discourse started with Zia-ul-Haq.  During the so-called Islamization of the laws, he apointed judges to the Shariat Court who would implement a very limited, orthodox version of the sharia, a construct foreign to the society at the time.....To this Zia-ul-Haq added the deadly Hudood ordinances against women....Pakistan's sharia laws under Zia-ul-Haq were intended to legitimize military rule in Islam's name, silence opposition, and repress freedom of speeh.  General Zia-ul-Haq became the Amir-ul Momineen (leader of the faithful) to lead the CIA-backed jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.  And thus Pakistan, which had been a secular state, moved toward a theocracy..."
One of the problems with Pakistan's blasphemy laws is there is no evidentiary standard and penalties are extremely harsh.  Blasphemy is not defined and there is not even the need to prove intent in accusations of insulting the Prophet.  An accuser can assert that someone has blasphemed without being required to produce any documentation; and if the accusation is false, the accuser is not penalized, no matter what has happened to his victim in the meantime.  The laws can thus be used not only to stifle freedom of thought but to bring accusations that,  according to the 2013 HRCP Annual Report, are "motivated by economic considerations and personal vendetta."  The blasphemy  laws are also used to persecute members of minority religions, particularly Ahmadi, Shi'ites, and Christians, as in the case of  Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused by a neighbor whose family was in a property dispute with hers. 
In a country where religious extremism is so out of control, merely saying the blasphemy law should be reformed can be fatal.  Charges can be laid even against someone as high placed as Pakistan's Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, who was charged with blasphemy in 2013.  Her offense?  Daring to discuss reform of the law on TV.  When Salmaan Taseer, then Governor of Punjab, advocated reform in 2011, he was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, Mumtaz Qadri.  Taseer had previously warned about the Talibanization of Punjab by the political party led by Nawaz Sharif, who is now Prime Minister.  When Taseer's assassin appeared in court, lawyers threw rose petals on him and the judge that found him guilty had to flee the country.  A popular mosque in Islamabad was built three years ago to honor Qadri.
As lawyer Zahir Ali Akbar points out, "One of the arguments put forward by protagonists of blasphemy law is that the presence of law prevents individuals from taking up guns."  The assassination of Rashid Rehman shows how far this argument is from the truth.  In fact, accusations of blasphemy are usually accompanied by mob violence and intimidation.  The case of Rashid Rehman's client, Junaid Hafeez, has been shaped by such violence from the beginning. 
A graduate student and adjunct teacher at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, Hafeez was accused of blasphemy in March, 2013 as part of acampaign waged by Jamaat e Islami and its student organization to replace liberals with its own people.   Such blasphemy campaigns are a well-known practice of Jamaat e Islaami, a political party of so-called "moderate Islamists" with a violent history and a vicious student wing.  They first targeted the head of the English department and, when she left the country, went after her teaching assistant, Junaid Hafeez, who particularly offended them because, according to a friend's blog, he was "very keen about appreciating the concept and values of democracy, feminism, liberty, pluralism, humanism and freedom of expression."  Hafeez was also interested in theatre and did his MPhil thesis on decoding Pakistani masculinities through the lens of popular films.
Needless to say, this sort of thing did not make him popular with conservatives on the faculty. When vacancies for new teachers were announced, and he was the most qualified, they moved against him.  On March 13, Rana Akbar Tabish, an active member of Islami jamea Talba (the student wing of Jamaat), circulated a leaflet saying Junaid Hafeez had made blasphemous remarks on a Facebook page and must be hanged immediately.  Another Islamist organization, Tehreek Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat (TTNR) organized a protest and "demanded immediate arrest and execution of the culprit, hurling a warning to the government that they would be forced to take to roads [i.e. riot] if the action was not taken forthwith."  Without investigating the charges against Hafeez, the Vice-Chancellor immediately terminated his teaching contract and housing allottment, and barred him from campus.
Hafeez fled but was soon arrested and charged with blasphemy under penal code 295-C. Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan. He had great difficulty finding a lawyer because the Multan Bar Association said they would expel anyone who took the case.  Only Rashid Rehman was brave enough to do so.  Now he is dead and his client is at great risk of his life. According to a 2010 report in the Pakistani Express-Tribune, between 1990 and 2010, 34 people accused of blasphemy were either killed by mob violence or died in jail under suspicious circumstances.  31 of these deaths occured in Punjab, the province where Hafeez is being held. 
One of the charges against him is that he operated two blasphemous websites, “So-Called Liberals of Pakistan” and “Mullah Munafiq”.  Although these charges were made over a year ago, the police have still not investigated the IP addresses to find out who actually owns the domains.  Nor has the prosecution noted that, though Hafeez has been in jail for over a year without access to computers, both websites have gone on as usual.  This failure to investigate supports the statement in the 2013 HRCP Report that "There is considerable evidence that those involved in faith-based violence have penetrated law enforcement agencies."
The indomitable HRCP has called for an investigation of police dereliction of duty and prosecution of the lawyers who threatened Rashid Rehman, and the judge who failed to protect him.  But Pakistani activists say that international pressure is necessary to protect Junaid Hafeez and help him regain his freedom. Free expression groups including IDARE, International PEN, the International Cities of Rescue Network (ICORN), and the Scholars at Risk Network have come together in answer to this call and are planning a campaign on behalf of Hafeez. 
Junaid Hafeez, a 27 year old Pakistani graduate student, was arrested in Multan on March 13, 2012 on false charges that he posted blasphemous remarks on Facebook.  Though these charges have never been substantiated, he has been held in jail for over a year and faces the death penalty.  His lawyer Rashid Rehman, head of the Pakistani Human Rights Commission in Multan, was warned by Islamists to drop the case on pain of death.  He refused and was assassinated on May 7, 2014.
WE DEMAND:
JUSTICE FOR RASHID REHMAN!
FREEDOM FOR JUNAID HAFEEZ!
AN END TO RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION AND MOB RULE!
Scroll down to the Urgent Action for the full story and what you can do to help!
URGENT ACTION: Junaid Hafeez
Summary 
Junaid Hafeez, a 27 year old Pakistani graduate student, was arrested in Multan on March 13, 2012 on false charges that he posted blasphemous remarks on Facebook.  Though these charges have never been substantiated, he has been held in jail for over a year and faces the death penalty.  His lawyer Rashid Rehman, head of the Pakistani Human Rights Commission in Multan, was warned by Islamists to drop the case on pain of death.  He refused and was assassinated on May 7, 2014.
Narrative
Junaid Hafeez was arrested as part of a campaign to Islamize the English department at Bahauddin Zakariya University, the main university in Multan, Pakistan’s third largest city.  Such blasphemy campaigns are a well known practice of Jamaat e Islaami, a political party of so-called “moderate Islamists” with a violent history and student wing.  The first target of the campaign was Shirin Zubair, head of the English Department, who taught critical thinking skills and gender studies.  The Tehrik-tahafaz-e-Namoos-e-risalat (TTNR), an off-shoot of Jamaat e Islami, told the university administration they were monitoring the teaching faculty and if no action were taken against liberal teaching, they would punish offenders themselves. The university’s Vice Chancellor forced Zubair to go on leave and removed her as head of the department.
Junaid Hafeez was a graduate student of Zubair’s and an adjunct teacher; a brilliant student, he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to Jackson State University in Missisippi in 2009-2010.   Because he was popular and well qualified academically, when a new teaching position was listed in Feb., 2013, he was the clear frontrunner.  Jamaat e Islami wanted the job for one of their people.  On March 13, another student, Rana Akbar Tabish, an active member of Islami jamea Talba (the student wing of Jamaat), circulated a leaflet saying Junaid Hafeez was a blasphemer and must be hanged immediately. 150-200 Islamist students, carrying sticks and chanting slogans, then staged a demonstration and called a strike in the English Department.  Without investigating the charges, the Vice Chancellor immediately cancelled Junaid’s MPhil admission, terminated his teaching contract and housing allottment, and barred him from campus.
Junaid fled but was soon arrested.  He was put in Sahiwal Jail, some distance from the city of Multan, and charged with blasphemy under penal code 295-C. Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan.
Junaid had great difficulty finding a lawyer.  His first lawyer resigned in June under death threats; the Multan Bar Association then forbade any of its members from taking the case and he was without representation until September, when Rashid Rehman, the Multan coordinator of the indepdendent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, agreed to take the case.  As soon as this happened, another fundamentalist group, Tehreek Dawaat ahle Hadith (TDAH) began to circulate a pamphlet calling for Rehman’s death.
As is usual in Pakistan, the case took a long time to come to trial.  Every 15 or 20 days, Junaid was taken from Saliwal Jail to Multan—a trip of several hours—under heavy guard.  He would be met at the court by a crowd of Islamists who would come into the court, call for his death, and create a commotion.  The hearing would last a few minutes; then the case would be postponed and he would be taken back to jail.
Fearing that Junaid might be killed going to or from court, Rashid Rehman asked for the trial to be held inside the jail.  Junaid was then transferred to Multan Central Jail and the trial began on April 3, 2014.   The prosecution submitted 1200 pages of evidence, including everything from the inbox of Juaid’s computer, reports of conferences, a 45 page CV, and an email version of a book called Progressive Muslims sent to him for review, which arrived four days after he was arrested.
Blasphemy cases in Pakistan are difficult to document because it is impossible for a believer to repeat something he considers blasphemous without sinning.  The prosecution’s evidence included 13 contradictory statements from witnesses against him and/or Shirin Abair.
Whether they are true or false, all these statements are counted by the prosecution as “evidence.” They contain accusations against both Shirin Abair and Junaid, like “she says such things in the lectures that I cannot put it in words,” and “He says such unholy things in the classes that we cannot bring it to our tongues!”  The only documentation of any of the charges against Junaid seems to be that he was accused of “liking” a post on a Facebook page called Mullah Munafiq. (https://www.facebook.com/mulla.munafiq.1); the post is still there with three comments but it has not been translated from Urdu.  Junaid was also accused of being the author of this site, which is ridiculous since the site has continued throughout the year he has been in jail with no computer access. At a hearing on April 11, Rehman filed a motion to dismiss all the charges as fabricated.  The judge denied the motion. Rehman then filed a motion to move Junaid’s trial to a higher court.
The prosecution had 14 lawyers present.  Outside the jail and in the presence of a witness, two men threatened Rehman with death unless he dropped the case.  Then two prosecution lawyers and an unidentified third party approached Rehman and his associate attorney Allah Dad as they stood before the judge, and said that, if he did not drop the case, “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist any more.”  Rehman called the judge’s attention to the threat but he did nothing. The HCRP issued a press release calling for police protection of Rehman and proseccution of those who had threatened him, and Rehman lodged a complaint with the police but nothing happened.  In an interview with BBC-Urdu April 18, Rehman said that defending someone accused of blasphemy was like walking into the jaws of death.
At 8:45 PM on May 7, while he was conferring in the HCRP office with a colleague, Nadeem Pervaiz, and a client, Muhammad Afzal, two armed men burst in and shot them all.  Rehman was killed instantly; the others are still hospitalized.
JUSTICE FOR RASHID REHMAN AND FREEDOM FOR JUNAID HAFEEZ!
WE DEMAND THAT
  • The lawyers who threatened Rashid Rehman be disbarred, the judge who failed to act be disciplined, and that senior police be held responsible for not protecting him.
  • His killers be brought to justice
  • The case against Junaid Hafeez be dismissed
  • His accusers be brought to trial for incitement to murder
  • Future blasphemy cases be tried only in the high court
  • Junaid’s new lawyer be given police protection and the case files, which were confiscated by the police, be returned to him intact
WE CALL ON YOU TO
  • Send email messages of support to the HRCP at Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Aiwan-i-Jamhoor, 107-Tipu Block,New Garden Town, Lahore-54600, Pakistan. E-mail: hrcp@hrcp-web.org; URL: www.hrcp-web.org.
  • Form local and campus defense committees to agitate online about the case and build pressure for it to be dismissed.
  • Write letters asking for the case to be dismissed to Mamnoon Hussain, President of Pakistan  http://www.presidentofpakistan.gov.pk/index.php?lang=en&opc=8; Nawaz Sharif, Prime Ministerinfo@pmo.gov.pk; and on Twitter: Shahbaz Sharif, Governor of Punjab  Shehbaz Sharif@CMShehbaz and the PM’s daughter Maryam Nawaz@MaryamNSharif.
  • Contact the Pakistani ambassador in your country and ask if you can visit him to discuss the murder of Rashid Rehman and the persecution of Junaid Hafeez.
  • Consult the IDARE Facebook page for further campaigning suggestions.
For more, check out our facebook page.