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Asia Bibi’s former lawyer, ‘fighter for minorities’, has died

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Lahore (AsiaNews) – Choudry Naeem Shakir, a Christian lawyer who defended Asia Bibi, died this weekend in US. He was 73. He had undergone a surgery for prostate cancer last year and was in Louisiana for treatment where he his death was caused by cardiac arrest on Oct 7.

Since his student life, Shakir joined the progressive politics and took part in working class movement. He was a founding member of both Awami (Public) Workers Party AWP in 60s and Socialist Party of Pakistan in 1971. He was also deputy general-secretary of the Workers Party Pakistan and remained associated with the Pakistan Trade Union Federation. The Supreme Court Lawyer was also editor of the oldest socialist monthly magazine ‘Awami Jamhuriat’ (Public Democracy) being published for 49 years.

In his political struggle, which spans over half a century, Shakir provided legal aid to the religious minorities, workers and poor against police brutality especially in blasphemy cases. He remained the former counsel of Asia Bibi, the Christian mother condemned to death by hanging for alleged blasphemy and is in jail since 2009, for a year.

Last month, Bibi was nominated for European Union’s high-status award edition 2017 of the prestigious “Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought”. The Prize is an initiative of the EU Parliament and is awarded to individuals or groups battling to defend fundamental human rights.

“She has no idea about this award,” Joseph Nadeem, executive director of the Renaissance Education Foundation told AsiaNews. The foundation is presently supporting her husband and two daughters in Youhanabad area of Lahore. Her family visited Bibi last week at the women’s prison in the city of Multan, Punjab province.

“She is still waiting for a Messiah. We are trying to put up her case in apex court after her appeal for early hearing was denied this May,” he said.

A Muslim lawyer took up Bibi’s case from Shakir after Lahore High Court upheld her death sentence in 2014. Condolences from Christian and Muslims has been streaming in following Shakir’s death.

Fr. Pascal Robert, a professor at Karachi’s National Catholic Institute of Theology paid homage to the activist in his facebook post.

“I knew Mr. Nadeem Shakir since 1985 when I was appointed in Lahore. Being fresh out from the seminary formation, my first encounter with the community made be experience the suffering of the brick kiln families, people pushed out from plots where residing for 50 years, being slaves of landlords etc impoverished by the greed and corruption of the rich,” he said.

“I met Mr. Nadeem Shakir through a common friend at his office behind the High Court and he became my formator in knowledge, experience and commitment for the human rights. I was always touched by his simplicity, meekness, sincerity and deep concern and commitment for the rights of the struggling majority of people in the society.”

AWP also paid homage to “ Comrade Naeem Shakir – a fighter and a true socialist” in a press release.

“Naeem withstood firm against all odds and pressures from the orthodox religious clergy and influential ruling class and struggled for the rights of the poor and marginalized people on legal and political fronts,” said Abid Hassan Minto the Muslim President AWP.

“He had dedicated his life for the working class politics and contributed immensely towards the efforts in uniting the scattered Left and progressive parties since 1996. He struggled for establishing an egalitarian peaceful society, social justice and fundamental rights of all irrespective of faith, ethnicity, and culture.”

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