Another man who stood for the rights of his fellow human beings has been forever silenced by religious zealots who remain unanswerable for their crimes. Human Rights advocate Rashid Rehman Khan was shot dead and his two colleagues injured when two armed men stormed into his chambers in Multan and opened fire. The lawyer, who was also a coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), was facing serious threats ever since he decided to represent Bahaudin Zakaria University lecturer Junaid Hafeez, accused of committing blasphemy. In Pakistan’s radical society, persons accused of blasphemy are considered guilty and deserving of death before any judgment is passed by a court of law. The legal process is viewed as a mere formality and any lawyer who dares to represent the alleged blasphemer is considered guilty by association. Any judge who doesn’t deliver the desired verdict is seen as obstructing justice by siding with the enemy of religion. The state watches with folded arms. In the end, the only question that remains is this: Who will kill the ‘blasphemer’? The court or the mob?

Advocate Rashid Rehman was not oblivious to the dangers that surrounded him. During a hearing of the case which was held in jail due to security concerns, he had been threatened with murder by Advocate Zulfiqar Sindhu and two other persons from the prosecution in the presence of a judge. The HRCP had notified authorities of the threat but no one took notice. Mr Rehman continued to stand by his client despite this and paid the ultimate price for it. Who will hold the relevant authorities accountable for their criminal negligence?

It is no secret that blasphemy laws are widely misused to victimise minorities, settle personal scores or target those with different views. Knowing this, these laws are not repealed for the fear of reprisal from certain self-appointed guardians of faith. What is just or moral about taking a person’s life for the sake of religious belief? If anyone’s religious convictions stand in the way of another’s rights, they must be disregarded. Until state and religion are not allowed to function independently, until rights are not considered superior to personal beliefs and zealots are not held accountable before the law, innocent people like Mr Rehman and Junaid Hafeez will continue to be persecuted. The government must act against individuals who threatened and killed Mr Rehman and take steps towards solving the blasphemy law problem.