Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir dies at 66

Asma Jahangir in 2004

Asma Jahangir in 2004

Born into an affluent family in Lahore in 1952, Asma Jahangir was exposed to politics from a very early age, giving her an insight into the dire situation of human rights in Pakistan.

Jamat e Islami (JI) founder Abul A'la Maududi's son, Syed Haider Farooq Maududi, led the funeral prayers of the deceased activist at LCC Ground near Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. Also, in 1995, Asma Jahangir became the second-ever victor of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the first of many global accolades that would come her way. She also co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Women's Action Forum.

She was also an outspoken critic of the powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of Pakistan's top bar association.

Sindh Human Rights Commission Chairperson Justice (retd) Majida Razvi recalled the challenge against the structural bars made through the Hudood Ordinances in the Evidence Act in Zia's era that went totally against the principles of justice to discriminate on the basis of law and created the perception that women were inferior to men. That she was constrained to describe the top brass of Pakistan's army as "dangerous duffers" a few years back is as much a sign of her anger as of the extraordinary unconstitutional powers that army continues to enjoy in Pakistan. She thumbed her nose at them by being elected the 13th president of the Supreme Court Bar Association in Islamabad. The nation is shocked over sudden death.

There is still bad violence against women, discrimination against minorities and near-slavery for bonded laborers, Ms. Jahangir told AFP during an interview in 2014, but human rights have made greater strides in Pakistan than may be apparent. She actively participated in a movement for restoration of political and fundamental rights during the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq for which she was put under house arrest and later imprisoned in 1983.

Despite this, her tireless campaigning for justice has earned her a place in history as one of the greatest human rights defender and champion of democracy.

Newspaper front pages have been dominated by accolades to "Asma the fearless", while social media has seen a tsunami of acclamations, with many questioning what Pakistan will do without her. Local TV stations broadcast footage showing public figures and Jahangir's friends sobbing and consoling each other outside her residence as her body was brought home from hospital. Their clients included Christians facing death sentences on blasphemy charges, bonded labourers who had fled the oppressive grip of feudal landowners, and women who faced violence at home.

Four years later, in 1999, a gunman burst into Asma Jahangir and her sister's offices in Lahore and shot dead Samia Imran, a victim of domestic abuse, who had come there to seek help in divorcing her husband.

Latest News