In May this year, a prominent human rights advocate, Rashid Rehman, was shot dead in Multan for defending Junaid Hafeez. Hafeez, a lecturer in English, was accused by his students of making blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad in early 2013. He was in prison since, and was unable to find a lawyer who would agree to defend him. Since Rehman took up the case, he began receiving threats, a point that he made known on numerous occasions. Most threats came from other lawyers, and some were made in the presence of a judge in court. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for which he worked, documented these threats and appealed to law enforcement authorities on his behalf, requesting security for the lawyer. The case was not taken seriously, and ultimately Rehman lost his life in defense of his cause.

Now, it seems recent history is repeating itself. Shahbaz Gurmani, a lawyer defending two blasphemy accused, one of them Junaid Hafeez, has received death threats from the IS (Islamic State) militant group, warning him to withdraw from the cases or face the “consequences.” There are two problematics here. One, if the letter really did come from the IS, it is their first formal interaction with the state. So far, there have been reports of pamphlets being distributed and graffiti mysteriously appearing on walls. A signed letter is direct engagement; a signed death threat even more so. The state should take serious notice of the incident on that account alone. Secondly, the courageous lawyer has refused to back down from the case and has asked to be provided with security. He has made it clear that he will not stop defending the blasphemy accused even if he has to arrange for his own safety. How many bold sons of the land will we be willing to sacrifice? We have lost Shahbaz Bhatti, Salmaan Taseer, Rashid Rehman and numerous other defenders of justice. We must be prepared to do all it takes, not to lose Shahbaz Gurmani. If we fail, it will be a loss of such significant proportions, it could be the end of the road for this government.