16 January 2023
By Rehan Piracha
In a shocking development, senior lawyer and former President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and senior lawyer Abdul Latif Afridi, fondly referred to as Latif ‘Lala’, was killed on Monday morning in a target shooting in the bar room of the Peshawar High Court (PHC). Latif Afridi was a notable leader of the lawyers’ movement, and a comrade of Asma Jahangir, also belonging to the AJ group. He was 80 years old.
As a reaction, the SCBA has given a country-wide strike call in courts to protest the murder.
“The SCBAP demands a countrywide strike of all courts and calls for immediate and strict action to be taken against the murderer(s) of Latif Afridi Sahab and those involved in this heinous crime,” SCBA President Abid Zuberi announced in a tweet. The PHC Bar Association also called for a strike in courts across the province on Tuesday (January 17). Moreover, it has also termed the incident a “security lapse” and has questioned how someone with a weapon managed to enter the premises and reach the bar room.
Afridi’s struggle for democracy and human rights causes spans over six decades, starting from the time he was expelled from Peshawar University for supporting Fatima Jinnah in the 1964 presidential election during the military regime of General Ayub Khan.
According to senior lawyer Amjad Shah, who is also a former vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, “Afridi was also jailed five times under the tyrannical regime of the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD),” he told Voicepk.net. “He also played a huge role in the 2007 lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judges of the apex judiciary sacked under PCO by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf. ‘Lala’ was a brave and courageous individual who stood for rule of law and nobody ever could accuse him of hypocrisy,” he said.
Shabbir Gigyani, another senior human rights lawyer based in Peshawar, said that Latif Afridi worked tirelessly for the welfare of the lawyers’ community, the independence of the judiciary, and the enforcement of the fundamental rights of the citizens in the country. “Nobody could match the services rendered by the late lawyer in the country.” The void left by his death will never be filled in this century at least,” he added.
Observing Afridi closely when he was his junior associate, Gigyani fondly remembered him as a good human being who was a staunch defender of lawyers and the judiciary.
Meanwhile, senior journalist and editor-in-chief of Voicepk.net, Munizae Jahangir, termed Latif Afridi’s death an irreparable loss for Pakistan, especially for the legal community. “He was a true democrat who fought all his life against dictatorship, he gave free legal aid to families of missing people,” she wrote in her tweet. “His death is a big loss for the human rights community, and the legal fraternity has lost a courageous and principled leader.”
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that it was shocked to learn of Afridi’s assassination. A former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and founding member of the National Democratic Movement, Mr. Afridi was a stalwart of the 2007 lawyers’ movement and remained committed to the ideals of justice and the rule of law, HRCP said in its statement.
Terming his death a huge loss to human rights defenders, HRCP has demanded an immediate investigation into the brazen attack.
The AGHS Legal Aid Cell has also termed Afridi a ‘trailblazer in the legal field’, a ‘champion of human rights’, and an ‘ardent supporter of marginalized and disenfranchised communities in Pakistan.
“As the former President of SCBA, he fought for a more equitable legal system, bringing his extensive experience and knowledge of law and policy to the wider community.” A long-standing friend to our founder, Asma Jahangir, he stood by her side as they fought together for the betterment of women, children, and religious minorities. “They lived for the same principles and devoted their lives to helping others,” AGHS Legal Aid Cell tweeted.
Suspected assailant arrested
The police said that Afridi had been sitting with other lawyers in the PHC bar room when a gunman suddenly appeared and opened fire on him. As a result, he sustained six bullet wounds and succumbed to his injuries during treatment at the Peshawar Lady Reading Hospital. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Kashif Abbasi told reporters that the police have arrested the accused and identified him as Adnan Afridi, adding the attack was carried out because of personal enmity.
The attacker’s cousin, Justice Aftab Afridi, an anti-terrorism judge in Swat — was killed in a firing incident last year. Latif Afridi and his family members were nominated in the case but were later acquitted by an anti-terrorism court in Swabi.
NDM announces three-day mourning
The National Democratic Movement announced three days of mourning over its co-founder and senior leader Abdul Latif Afridi’s martyrdom in the assassination attack. In a statement, the NDM said that leaders and party workers stood with the bereaved family of Abdul Latif Afridi.
NDM Chairperson Mohsin Dawar said that he was shocked and devastated by the assassination of Latif ‘Lala,” referring to him as his mentor, teacher, and leader. Dawar said Afridi had mentored generations of Pashtun youth during his political career, which spanned more than 50 years.
“A brave politician and lawyer.” He never mince(d) his words. He kept the torch of resistance alive for a long. An irreparable loss that has left a void that cannot be filled. A big loss for human rights, and democracy in Pakistan & for Lar aw Bar Afghan Watan,” he tweeted in his tribute to the late party co-founder.
Condolences and condemnation
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed his deep sorrow and grief over the killing of senior lawyer Abdul Latif Afridi. “I pray that the bereaved family bear this loss with fortitude. The worsening law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is alarming,” the PM said in his tweet, adding that the provincial government should take immediate measures in this regard.
Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari condemned Afridi’s murder. Abdul Latif Afridi was a strong supporter of democracy and a staunch opponent of extremism, Zardari said. “The killing of martyr Abdul Latif Afridi is very unfortunate,” the PPP leader said in a tweet.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Haji Ghulam Ali expressed grief over the killing of the senior lawyer. “It is a sorrowful incident and we share the grief with the bereaved family,” the KP governor said in a condolence statement.
“Lawyers to be at the forefront of the protection of basic rights”
“Without legitimately elected representatives of the people, the supremacy of the constitution, and a powerful parliament, the elections will not be more than a joke.”
In his exclusive interview that Voicepk.net had with Latif Afridi in 2020 upon his election as SCBA president, Afridi said that the lawyers’ role in the 2007 movement for the restoration of the judiciary, or in the recent case of Justice Qazi Faez Isa, gave a very clear message that they would be part of every such movement which would run for the independence of the judiciary, rule of law and protection of basic rights.
Afridi belonged to the Independent Lawyers Group, also commonly known as the ‘Asma Jahangir group’ and won the elections by bagging 1,236 votes, while his rival Abdul Sattar Khan, who was backed by the Hamid Khan Group (Professional Lawyers Group), received 959 votes.
Afridi had been an active petitioner in the cases of enforced disappearances and always urged the authorities to end the practice. In the interview to Voicepk.net, Afridi said that as president of SCBA, he would try to give the right advice to the government on the issue of enforced disappearances because the legal advisors of the government were not giving better advice to the government.
Afridi had also spoken about the limited role of women lawyers in bar politics, promising to convene an all-Pakistan women lawyers’ conference to address their problems. “During my tenure, it is my firm resolve to arrange such conference to resolve the issues of our female colleagues and I will dedicate that conference to late Asma Jahangir,” Afridi stated in the interview.
Abdul Latif Afridi was born in 1943 in Tirah, Khyber Agency. He did his postgraduation from Peshawar University in 1966 and two years later also acquired a law degree from there. He was expelled from Peshawer University for supporting Fatima Jinnah in the 1964 presidential election.
In 1979, he joined the Ghaus Bux Bizenjo-led Pakistan National Party (PNP) and became its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial president. In 1986, when the PNP was merged into the Awami National Party (ANP), Latif Afridi became its first provincial president.
In 1997, he was elected as a member of the National Assembly. Afridi’s membership was terminated from ANP by the party’s young provincial president Aimal Wali Khan in 2019. Afridi became a founding member of the National Democratic Movement (NDM) the same year. Abdul Latif Afridi also remained president of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association as well as vice chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council.