"It will be hard to find Rashid Rehman’s substitute in Multan, a city of five million people," says Sarwar Bari, a civil society activist, continuing, "We love and miss him - because, he had dedicated his life for the oppressed workers".
The assassination of Rashid Rehman on May 7 for taking up a blasphemy case has rendered hundreds of rights activists, oppressed workers and minorities disheartened. Rehman gave hope to the hopeless victims of delay in justice.
"He was financially supporting nine families with his personal efforts. He would charge nothing for cases his friends would refer to him. He was matchless," says Muhammad Hussein Khokhar, a brick kiln worker.
Rehman was a committed human rights activist who spent 31 years of his life defending the rights of people, including brick kiln workers and tenants of military farms in the remote districts of southern Punjab. His association with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) lasted for more than two decades.
"He had been fighting against violations of human rights since 1983. He staged a one-man demonstration in 1983 when the tyrannies of Zia’s martial law were obvious. Rehman demonstrated at Chowk Kutchery, carrying a placard in his hands against violence against women," says Khokhar, who had worked with Rehman as a human rights activist for the last 18 years.
Hyacinth Peter, a civil society activist, says the minorities feel helpless after his death.
Rashid also fought the case of Afsheen Sahu, a girl who was killed for marrying of her free will. Despite threats from the girl’s family, Rehman proved in the court that the influential Sahu family had killed her. He was also active in the Mukhtara Mai case and organised protest rallies and demonstrations across South Punjab. He fought many cases of land disputes of the oppressed people free of cost. He was always ready to accept challenges.
According to Khokhar, Rehman had nearly achieved success in the Junaid Hafeez blasphemy case as he was going to file a petition with the Lahore High Court Multan bench to challenge the pressure being exerted from prosecution. He had prepared the draft of the petition to file in the LHC Multan bench on Thursday. He was gunned down a day before on Wednesday.
In 2011, the police tortured tenants when they started a long march from Khanewal to Lahore and registered criminal cases against them. Rashid Rehman challenged the police action in the LHC Multan bench and got relief from the court.
"The military farms’ administration had registered cases against 432 tenants from seven villages to vacate agriculture farms. Rehman was the only man who had taken a bold stand and got the cases against tenants quashed through courts," says Aqila Naz of the Anjuman Muzareen Punjab (AMP).
He got the land vacated from illegal possessions of influential politicians, including Moonis Elahi in Rahim Yar Khan and MPA Raye Mansab from Layyah. He filed a writ petition against Moonis Elahi for possessing lands of the poor people and got relief from court.
He also contested a case involving Zohaib Gillani, nephew of former Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. Zohaib’s wife had allegedly killed a minor servant for committing a mistake. Rehman contested on behalf of the family of the murdered child-servant but later opted out as the two parties reached an out-of-court settlement.
He got arrested Bahauddin Zakaria police station SHO, Muhammad Irshad and ASI Ahmed Nawaz, on court orders against the killing of a brick kiln worker, Javed Bhutta, in custody. The judicial inquiry into the matter is underway.
He had told the scribe exactly 27 days before his death that his life was threatened. "My life is under threat and the prosecution served me life threats in front of the judge during blasphemy case trial at the jail. If I am assassinated, three persons will be responsible for my death. Three persons include: Zulfiqar Sindhu, ex-Session Judge Sajjad Chawan and Auyyob Mughal," he was quoted in The News on April 12, 2014.
The police have avoided nomination of Rehman’s prime suspects in the FIR and have, instead, registered the case against unknown assailants. It is learnt that the police have planned to include Rehman’s nominated three suspects in the investigation process, instead of nominating them in the FIR, thereby making the case weak.
"We have not reached any conclusions and are still trying to establish a preliminary hypothesis. We are working on different lines to find out the reasons behind the murder," says SSP Operations, Shaukat Abbas.
Rights activists believe the police are not investigating the murder properly. The Punjab Special Branch classified report seems to suggest the same. The Punjab IGP, Khan Baig, had taken action on the Punjab Special Branch report, indicating life threats to rights activist, Rashid Rehman. The Punjab IGP office dispatched the report to Multan City Police Officer. The CPO office received the report on April 21. The IGP orders were ignored.
Insiders in the police department say the office of SSP Operations is responsible for providing security on demand or on the order of his senior. However, Rehman was not provided security despite Punjab IGP’s orders.
The Multan SSP Operations, Shaukat Abbas, however, denies that the application was sent to the police by the deceased. "The government does not provide security to everyone in blasphemy cases. The government only provides security to the complainant and the accused," he maintains. The government cannot provide security to the defence counsel even in blasphemy cases.
The Chyalyak police have registered the case No 306/14 under sections 302, 324 of the PPC and 7ATA against two unidentified people. No arrest has been made so far.
The rights activists say the police has avoided nominating the people indicated by the slain lawyer in his application sent to the Multan CPO. They maintain that the police should include Rehman’s application in the FIR.
An officer of the Chylyak police, on the condition of anonymity, discloses that the killers were more than two, they were young and spoke Urdu.
Rehman’s brother-in-law, Khalid Sheikh, the complainant in the case, says Chyalyak police SHO, Ghulam Abbas, and SSP Operations, Shaukat Abbas, have visited him and inquired on different matters.