Pakistan 'blasphemy lawyer' shot dead in Multan office

Protesters react to a rumour that a member of the Hindu community had desecrated the Koran, in the southern Pakistani province of Sindh (March 2014) Perceived insults against Islam can cause much public anger in Pakistan

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Gunmen in the Pakistani city of Multan have shot dead a lawyer defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy, police and officials say.

Police said that Rashid Rehman was sitting in his office when he was shot. Two of his assistants were injured.

Allegations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously in Pakistan.

Critics argue that blasphemy laws are frequently misused to settle personal scores and that members of minority groups are often unfairly targeted.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws

  • After partition in 1947 Pakistan inherited offences relating to religion which were first codified by India's British rulers in 1860
  • In the 1980s clauses were added to the laws by the military government of General Zia-ul Haq
  • One clause recommends life imprisonment for "wilful" desecration of the Koran, another says blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment
  • Muslims constitute a majority of those booked under these laws, followed by the minority Ahmadi community
  • A majority support the idea that blasphemers should be punished, but there is little understanding of what religious scripture says as opposed to how the modern law is codified

Senior police official Zulfiqar Ali told AFP news agency that Mr Rehman died amid "indiscriminate firing" in his office on Wednesday evening.

He said he and his two injured colleagues were rushed to hospital where doctors pronounced him dead upon arrival.

Mr Rehman was defending Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer at Bahauddin Zakariya University accused by hardline student groups of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in March last year.

An official at the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told AFP that for a year no lawyer was prepared to take up the case because of fear of reprisals from extremist religious groups.

Mr Rehman, a rights activist and co-ordinator of the HRCP, decided to defend Mr Hafeez despite reportedly receiving death threats.

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