The Day of the Endangered Lawyer

A few days before the Day of the Endangered Lawyer, the Islamabad Bar Association issued a notification that made it mandatory for lawyers to submit affidavits regarding their faith. The notification was clearly targeted towards members of the Ahmadi sect. Facing backlash in the public and also a pushback from the Pakistan Bar Council, the notification was suspended.

However, as noted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) at a roundtable they held “it was critical to discuss the threats faced by lawyers who defend human rights. HRCP Honorary Spokesperson I. A. Rehman underscored the need to document all such instances of threats to lawyers. Participants shared a range of experiences, from lawyers who said that they had been threatened openly by their own colleagues for representing clients from the Ahmadiyya community, to those who had faced intimidation from state agency officials in cases related to torture or death in custody. Politically sensitive cases, such as those pertaining to enforced disappearances, also put lawyers at risk. Lawyer and digital rights activist Nighat Dad pointed out that ensuring lawyers’ security extended to their digital security: if this became compromised, it would immediately put clients at risk.”

Further, “An important consensus was that women lawyers and lawyers from religious minorities were subjected to greater harassment, not only from male colleagues, but also from judges. Advocates Jalila Haider and Alia Malik recounted the number of instances in which they had been harassed in court or been threatened with physical violence. Vice-chair of the Pakistan Bar Council Abid Saqi pointed to the structural discrimination existing in the Constitution and laws. He recommended that a permanent body be constituted to develop strategies for countering threats to lawyers handling sensitive cases, such as those related to blasphemy and forced conversion. He also agreed, among other things, to a proposal for establishing committees to counter the harassment of women in the legal profession. HRCP Council member and senior lawyer Hina Jilani said that lawyers must engage with the state, and especially the judiciary, to sensitise them to such threats and the need to perform their due role.”

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