Asma Jahangir, human rights activist and Pakistan’s leading liberal voice, passed away at the age of 66 after suffering from a sudden cardiac attack. Jahangir was the chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and respected for her outspoken criticism of the country’s militant Islamist groups. During her career, she dared to raise concerns about Pakistan’s intelligence services. As the first female president of the Supreme Court bar association, she also served as the UN special rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran since 2016, especially known for advocating women’s rights in the country.
Jahangir’s Spirit Already Blossomed At A Young Age
Asma Jahangir’s exposure to public life happened at a very young age. On December 22, 1971, the military government of Yahya Khan detained her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani under martial law regulations. Malik Ghulam Jilani, a former civil servant and politician, was sent to jail in Multan after his detention. He sent his family a letter through a jail employee, listing possible grounds on which a petition could be filed for his release. Then only 18 years old, Asma Jahangir filed the petition at the Lahore High Court. This set the tone for the rest of her life as she spent her 40-year long career in and out of courtrooms.
With Her Critical Voice She Became The Face Of A Liberal Pakistan
She was an outspoken critic of military dictators General Zia-Ul-Haq (1980s) and General Pervez Musharraf (2000s). The latter directed her to be placed under house arrest for 90 days in 2007. In the 1980s, as a part of the Woman Action Forum, she protested Zia-Ul-Haq’s Hudood Ordinance — an attempt to bring Sharia law into Pakistan’s legal system. The protest made her the face of the feminist movement of Pakistan, the first outspoken vocal critics of a military dictator attempting to mix religion and law.
Her Focus On Justice For Those Who Can’t Speak For Themselves Earned Her Honour
Asma Jahangir fought for justice for minorities and those who had no means to report their exploitation. An illustrative example is her defence of minority Christians charged with blasphemy, an offence that under Pakistan’s controversial law carries the death penalty.
In 2015, Jahangir was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was the recipient of the UNESCO/Bilbao prize for the promotion of a culture of human rights as well as the French Legion of Honour. In 2014, she received the Right Livelihood Award alongwith Edward Snowden.
‘Till The Very End
Though death threats, imprisonment and beating weren’t uncommon to her, it never slowed down her enthusiasm to fight for the rights of her country citizens. Fighting to the very end, Jahangir gave her last public speech two days before her death outside Islamabad’s press club, championing ethnic rights and democracy.
Soon after the report of her death many users took to Twitter to express their condolences:
RIP Asma Jahangir. The Subcontinent’s bravest and most “incorrigible” liberal. No one touched by her came without her touch of kindness. Both Pakistan and India are poorer today. pic.twitter.com/IEL3rXbjcS
— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) February 11, 2018
Today it's not only Pakistan who will cry. The entire South Asia shall mourn #AsmaJahangir. This is a loss of not only Pakistan. She shook up the conscience of the world.
— Marvi Sirmed (@marvisirmed) February 11, 2018
Shocking to hear about the passing of this brave woman. Her honesty and sincerity to her cause remains an inspiration for our generation. Was always so full of life. We will miss you ma’am. @Asma_Jahangir pic.twitter.com/gGqEJuAexv
— Ali Zafar (@AliZafarsays) February 11, 2018
إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ
Deeply saddened by the news of sudden demise of renowned lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir sahiba. Pakistan has lost a passionate champion of human rights and a staunch supporter of democracy. May her soul rest in peace!
— Shehbaz Sharif (@CMShehbaz) February 11, 2018
It wasn’t easy to live Asma Jahangir’s life. The Asma Jahangir that lives inside every Pakistani women, brave, fearless, rebellious. Don’t let that Asma within you ever die. The fight continues! pic.twitter.com/tbUcHplQQ0
— Rabia Anum (@RabiaAnumm) February 11, 2018