IA Rehman, Pakistan’s iconic human rights defender, dies aged 90

Rehman spent his life defending human rights, opposing military dictators, fighting for the rule of law and democracy.

IA Rehman reading a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report during a 2004 news conference in Islamabad [File: Farooq Naeem/AFP]

IA Rehman, an iconic Pakistani human rights defender and journalist, has died in the eastern city of Lahore after a brief illness, his family and friends said. Rehman was 90.

Rehman spent his life defending human rights, opposing military dictators, fighting for the rule of law and democracy. He was also a strong voice for the country’s minorities, including Christians and Hindus.

He died of old age, high blood sugar, and blood pressure, according to Harris Khalique, secretary-general at the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Rehman was the HRCP’s honorary spokesperson and former secretary-general.

Rehman worked as an editor for various newspapers before joining the commission. He regularly contributed articles for several Pakistani newspapers.

Rehman was born in 1930 in Haryana in neighbouring India before Pakistan gained its independence after the end of British colonial rule in 1947.

He was the author of three books an advocate of peace between Pakistan and India, the two South Asian nuclear rivals who have fought three wars since 1947.

Rehman campaigned for amendments to the country’s controversial blasphemy laws, which domestic and international rights groups say have often been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle personal scores.

The reports of his death prompted an outpouring of grief on social media, with people from cabinet ministers to the country’s opposition paying tributes to Rehman for his contribution to journalism and human rights.

Among the mourners was Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who tweeted that the country had lost “a true icon”.

A longtime friend, human rights defender Afrasiab Khattak, tweeted that Rehman’s death marked “the end of an era”.

The HRCP said in a statement: “Few people in Pakistan and beyond could match the depth and breadth of his advocacy against enforced disappearances, the death penalty and bonded labour, or his unwavering support for the rights of women, children, and religious and ethnic minorities.”

“IA Rehman leaves behind a strong legacy of speaking truth to power in a way that not only persuaded others of the value of respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, but also conveyed to those he criticised how damaging their role could be for the most vulnerable members of society,” HRCP chairperson Hina Jilani said.

The US consulate in the eastern city of Lahore also extended condolences to Rehman’s family and friends, calling him “a journalist and defender of human rights” who “will inspire countless future generations”.

Rehman is expected to be buried in the city of Lahore later on Monday.

Source: News Agencies