ISLAMABAD: Renowned celebrated journalist, writer and poet Ahfaz ur Rehman passed away in wee hours Sunday at the age of 78 after a prolonged illness.
According to details, Ahfaz ur Rehman had been admitted to a private hospital a few days ago, after his condition worsened. The late journalist had lost his voice a few years ago due to throat cancer.
Ahfaz ur Rehman was born in the Indian city of Jabalpur on April 12, 1942. During his college days, he was a member of the National Students Federation and later came to be known among his colleagues for being a fearless defender of press freedom, civil liberties and an active member of trade unions.
After getting a Master degree in journalism from the University of Karachi, he went to China where he stayed for 16 years, working in foreign language press.
Ahfaz ur Rehman was an extremely learned and decent man. He was inspired by the great revolution in China and leftist movements around the world and wrote extensively on Mao, Zhou En-Lai and Chinese history.
He returned to Pakistan in 1993, joining first the Jang newspaper as its magazine editor and later the Rozanama Express in 2002 where he continued to work until 2018 when his health deteriorated.
Ahfaz ur Rehman was a committed journalist who never compromised in his life. He played an important role in improving conditions of working journalists and protection of media freedoms.
His death has been termed a loss not only for his family but for all oppressed people. Ahfaz ur Rehman had played a crucial role in defending press freedom when military dictator General Ziaul Haq banned the daily Musawat so much so that he had to go underground for three months and suffered imprisonment.
He also served as the president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ). A second edition of his book on journalists’ struggles during the Zia regime was published in 2017.
He was termed a brutally honest and profoundly elegant person. He had been courageously battling a deadly disease, cancer, for some time. He has left behind an equally committed-to-the-cause wife Mahnaz, a son, a daughter and thousands of others to mourn his death.
He was widely known as a journalist of high integrity and a poet of immense creative talent.
Ahfaz ur Rehman would always be remembered for the universal ideals that he upheld till his last breath. He was never known as someone who had ever compromised on his principles in his life which was characterized by numerous trials and tribulations. No doubt, his conduct was guided by deep ethics. He always performed the role of a window to let in the light of kindness, boldness and simplicity.
Ahfaz ur Rehman has struggled for the freedom of the Press and for the rights of working journalists and other media workers, and raised his voice both against the numerous dictatorial Pakistani regimes and the corporate media houses who refuse to give the journalists and other workers of the press industry their due.
Ahfaz ur Rehman has written many books and translations and which equally inspire for his efforts for press freedom and implementation of Wage Board Award. He has been tributed as “a rare breed in the Pakistani media circles.
As the president of the PFUJ, when he constantly protested against the greed of the newspaper and media house owners of the country for not giving the workers their due rights and for not implementing the wage board award as had been directed by the Government for long. He was terminated from services for his outspoken activism. After yet another period of unemployment, Ahfaz ur Rehman finally found a job in the Urdu newspaper Daily Express as the Magazine Editor. He also writes a weekly column that appears on Sundays in Daily Express, titled “Black and White” (Syaah o Safaid) In November 2007, he was among the first journalists to be arrested during the protests against the Musharraf government’s decision to ban several media channels. He has worked to “revitalize” the Karachi Press Club and has “condemned the opportunist elements that were bent upon de-politicising the vibrant club”.
In February 2008, in what was a first in the history of Pakistani literature, four of his newly published books were launched at Arts Council Karachi on the same day in a well-attended ceremony that attracted people, including poets, writers, journalists, trade unionists and activists.
At the sixth International Urdu Conference that took place at the Karachi Arts Council in November, 2013, a new collection of his poetry, titled ‘Zinda Hai Zindagi’ (Life, it is alive!) was launched. Leading poet and feminist Fehmida Riaz spoke on the occasion and said, “His poetry is an engaging account of our collective yearnings for what this nation has yet to achieve.” Zahida Hina and Shamim Hanfi also spoke on the occasion, about Ahfaz ur Rahman’s literary works. Senior writer and Man Booker International Prize nominee for 2013, Intizar Hussain in his review of the collection, opined that through his poetry Ahfaz ur Rahman is “searching for hope amid despair”.
In 2015, Ahfaz ur Rahman wrote and compiled a book about the historic press freedom movement against the Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. The book launching event was attended by the intellectual “creme de la creme” of Karachi. The book chronicles the movement for the freedom of the press by journalists in 1977-78 when journalists were incarcerated and flogged for their struggle for freedom of the press and unhindered information by then president General Ziaul Haq and his coterie. Writing in Dawn’s “Books and Authors”, noted journalist Muhammad Ali Siddiqi, said that “the book is an important addition to the meagre literature available on the fourth estate in Pakistan”.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah expressed “deep grief” on Rahman’s death, according to his spokesperson.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in a post on Twitter also “mourned” Rahman’s passing and said that his struggle for press freedoms and fundamental rights would always be remembered.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has expressed its deep sorrow and grief over the death of veteran journalist Ahfaz ur Rehman and announced three-day mourning across the country.
In a joint statement issued Sunday, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi paid rich tributes to the life-long struggle and sacrifices rendered by Ahfaz ur Rehman for freedom of Press in the country.
“Ahfaz ur Rehman was one of the torch-bearers for the freedom of Press in PFUJ,” the joint statement said. “He was always in the forefront in any movement launched by the PFUJ against military rulers and oppressive regimes.”
The PFUJ President and Secretary General said the life-long struggle of Ahfaz ur Rehman for freedom of expression will continue to be a 3guiding force for the journalists’ community across Pakistan.
PFUJ also announced three-day of mourning across the country to mourn his death.
During this period, black flags will be hoisted at all press clubs, union offices as well as at working places by journalists’ unions.
Recalling Ahfaz ur Rehman’s struggle and services, the PFUJ leadership said his bold leadership and struggle for the rights of working journalists’ will always be remembered and continue to guide the PFUJ policies.
PFUJ leaders noted that Ahfaz ur Rehman had been fighting for the rights of journalists since 1972. After his return from China, he was arrested and tortured during the oppressive regime of General Ziaul Haq but Ahfaz never surrendered and continued to raise his voice for freedom of Press.
Even during the tenure of former military dictator General Musharraf, Ahfaz remained in the forefront of the struggle when the military ruler banned some TV channels.
Shahzada Zulfikar and Nasir Zaidi also recalled Ahfaz ur Rehman’s services for the cause of journalists in the country.
“As president of PFUJ, Ahfaz ur Rehman constantly raised the issue of non-implementation of wage board award and challenged the owners and managements of newspapers and media houses without any fear,” the statement said. “With his death we have lost a great trade unionist, a bold leader, a committed journalist and above all a man who was of great personal integrity.”
“We salute to our former colleague and comrade Ahfaz ur Rehman’s for his life-long struggle and that he will remain to live in the hearts of PFUJ members across the country,” the statement said