18 January 2023
Senior Counsel, Asia Division, Board Member of Voicepk.net
(The article was originally published on Human Rights Watch by Saroop Ijaz the Senior Council Asia Division for HRW and Board Member of Voicepk.net)
The respected lawyer and human rights defender Abdul Latif Afridi was shot and killed inside the Peshawar High Court on January 16. Affectionately known as Lala (meaning elder brother in Pashto), Afridi, 79, was one of Pakistan’s most courageous and outspoken voices for rule of law, democracy, and human rights over several decades.
The alleged gunman, a junior lawyer, was arrested at the scene.
Afridi’s activist career began as a student leader in the 1960s when he was expelled from Peshawar University for denouncing sham elections under the military dictatorship of Gen. Ayub Khan. After becoming an attorney, he represented many victims of enforced disappearances and their families. He was a vocal critic of religious militancy and extremism. He was never intimidated into silence, despite numerous threats to his life and several times suffering imprisonment and torture.
In 2007, he led a lawyers’ protest against then-president Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and was struck by a police armored personnel carrier, fracturing his leg.
Afridi was a passionate opponent of the Frontiers Crime Regulation, a draconian British colonial-era law governing the former tribal areas of Pakistan that permitted collective punishments and denied defendants basic due process rights, including the right to legal counsel. Thanks in part to his advocacy, the law was repealed in 2018.
He was a former member of the Pakistan’s National Assembly and a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
My introduction to Afridi was through Asma Jahangir and I.A. Rehman, late icons of the human rights movement in Pakistan. What struck me most about Lala was that despite working under great stress, he retained his wit and charm and always found time for the younger generation of human rights activists and lawyers. His loss is a devastating blow for the human rights movement in Pakistan and for all Pakistanis who stand for rule of law, equality, and democracy.
The most fitting tribute to Lala Latif Afridi is to continue his struggle for a tolerant, rights-respecting Pakistan.
(The writer is Senior Counsel, Asia Division, of Human Rights Watch)