12 February 2018 - 11:40 AM
Asma Jahangir: The Avant-Garde Voice That Shaped Pakistan
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Asma Jahangir, 66, a fierce human rights defender and a renowned senior lawyer died in Lahore on Sunday. 

Asma Jahangir participates in a protest.

Human Rights Asma Jahangir Legend Dies At 66

Jahangir's family told Dawn News that she suffered a cardiac arrest and was transferred to a hospital, where she passed away. She is survived by two children and a husband. 

"Pakistan has lost its fiercest leader," said Salman Sufi, director general of the Strategic Reforms Unit of the Punjab Government, Al Jazeera reported. 

Born in Lahore in 1952, Jahangir went to Kinnaird College where she received her bachelor's degree and later went to Punjab University to receive a law degree in 1978. She was admitted to the Lahore High Court in 1980 and to the Supreme Court in 1982.  

She later ascended to the position of the first female president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar andother judges have expressed grief on the passing away of one of the most influential voices of the country. 

"She was an outspoken and courageous lady, and had risen to prominence by sheer dint of hard work, diligence and commitment to the legal profession," the judges of the high court said in a statement. 

Her criticism of Pakistan's military, armed groups and self-serving politicians often put her in life-threatening situations — she braved beatings, death threats and imprisonment during the course of her life. 

Jahangir was a ferocious advocate of gender equality, whether it was in the fight against "honor killings" in the country or regressive laws against the rights of a particular religion, gender or minority group. She played a prominent role in the lawyers' movement. She co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and Women's Action Forum in 1981. 

"Her role in getting the Punjab Women Protection Authority was undeniably crucial," Sufi told Al Jazeera, which refers to an order meant to protect women from violence by establishing centers across Punjab province.

Jahangir also served as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief between 2004 to 2010. During that time, she went to India to meet one of the country's most right-wing politicians, Bal Thackeray, known for his pro-Hindu nationalism stance, to investigate religious hate crimes and riots in the western state of Maharashtra. 

Jahangir later went on to serve as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights violations in Iran. She also won the 2014 Right Livelihood Award. 

Jahangir was known for not mincing her words when it came to human rights violations, corrupt and hypocritical politicians and military regimes in her country. 

In 1993, when an 11-year-old Christian boy, Salamat Masih, and his uncles, Manzoor Masih and Rehmat Masih, were accused of defacing the walls of a mosque with blasphemous words in a small town near Lahore, Jahangir chose to represent the case. 

"In bonded labor cases, judges would ask me why I had brought those people to the courts who stank. You are here precisely for them, I would respond," she told The Herald.

“Yes, I am very unhappy, extremely anguished at human rights violations against Kashmiris in India or against Rohingyas in Burma or, for that matter, Christians in Orissa. But obviously, I am going to be more concerned of violations taking place in my own house because I am closer to the people who I live with. I have more passion for them," Jahangir told The Herald.

“And I think it sounds very hollow if I keep talking about the rights of Kashmiris but do not talk about the rights of a woman in Lahore who is butchered to death.”

Her upbringing and personal experiences with political turmoil prepared her to be a more stringent defender of human rights. 

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In December 1971, when Jahangir was barely 18 years old, Asma Jahangir’s father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, a former civil servant and a left-wing politician, was detained and sent to jail in Multan by the military government of Yahya Khan, under martial law regulations. While in jail, Ghulam Jilani sent a letter to his family through a jail employee, in which he wrote details for grounds of a petition for his release. Asma filed the petition at the Lahore High Court.

“Courts were not new to me. Even before his detention, my father was fighting many cases. He remained in jail in Bannu. He remained in jail in Multan. But we were not allowed to go see him there," Jahangir told The Herald in an interview. 

"He did not want us to go there and see him. We always saw him in courts. So, for me, the court was a place where you dressed up to meet your father. It had a very nice feeling to it."

She was known to be vocal against military repression in her country. 

Jahangir took to the streets for the Movement for Restoration of Democracy, MRD, a massive left-wing political alliance formed to end the military government of President General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980's, one of the most tumultuous periods in Pakistan's history. 

She also played a major role and was even arrested in the lawyers’ movement against the emergence of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former president and military general who took to power in a military coup in 1999 and was later charged with treason. Soon after Jahangir's death, Musharraf has announced his return to the country, ahead of the 2018 Pakistan general elections to lead the All Pakistan Muslim League, APML. 

The Pakistan People's Party, PPP, has suspended activities for one day to mourn the death of Asma Jehangir.  


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