In a tragic event, one of the forerunners in the space of human rights activism in Pakistan, Asma Jehangir suffered a heart attack in Lahore and passed away on 11th February, 2018. She is survived by her husband, two daughters and a son.
Asma Jehangir was a renowned lawyer and a fierce defender of democracy in her country, and regularly raised concerns about Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. She dedicated her life to the cause of women’s rights, and the rights of children and religious minorities.
“Women’s rights was thought of as a western concept. Now people do talk about women’s rights.”
Ms Jehangir filed her first petition in the Lahore High Court, at the age of 18 years challenging her father’s detention, Malik Ghulam Gilani, who was a civil servant who entered politics upon retirement and spent years in detention for opposing military dictatorships.
She went on to become the first female president of the Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s Bar Association, UN special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Extra Judicial Killing, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, fiery campaigner for rule of law and democracy in Pakistan and Founder of Pakistan’s Human rights commission.
The journey was not for the weak. She is known for her resistance against military rule, a pro-democracy activist, and a vocal critic of country’s military and intelligence service. She was imprisoned in 1983 for her work with the Movement to Restore Democracy during of General Zia ul-Haq’s military rule. She was arrested in 2007 by the government of then military dictator Pervez Musharraf, and in 2012 claimed her life was in danger from the country’s top spy agency Inter Services Intelligence. In return she was outspoken about human rights violation such as death penalty for blasphemy, taking up cases free of cost for ‘missing’ persons.
Human rights defenders across the globe, expressed remorse at the demise through tweets and press statements. Amnesty International’s South Asia Director Omar Waraich in a tweet said, “Asma Jahangir was the bravest person I knew. She fearlessly stood up to dictators, thugs, misogynists. She was never daunted by the attacks that came her way. She never wavered from her principles. Her loss is incalculable.”
Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafsai, called Ms Jahangir a “saviour of democracy and human rights“.
She received several awards during her lifetime, including France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award in 2014, 2010 Freedom Award, Hilal-e-Imtiaz in 2010 and Sitara-e-Imtiaz for the decades of trailblazing work done by her. She was also included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential women.
In an interview with BBC one week before her untimely death, she said, “Things have changed from the 80s to now, but simply not enough.” The biggest tribute to her memory would be to continue her fight against authoritarianism and uphold the ideals of democracy and liberalism.