Pakistan's 'fearless' rights champion dies at 66

The tragedy of Asma Jahangir's sudden passing away at only 66 years of age, on February 11, is that she has left the world at a time when it needed her most.

Pakistan on Tuesday bid farewell to its eminent human rights activist Asma Jahangir, known as moral compass.

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.

The pro-democracy activist was to be buried at a more private ceremony later in the day.

In 1987, she co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and served as its Secretary General until 1993 when she became its chairperson.

As a lawyer in Pakistan, Ms. Jahangir was the first woman admitted to the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Council and was the first female President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. She successfully took up the Saima Waheed case, which guaranteed the right of adult women to make their own choice in marriage - one of the most important cases in Pakistan's legal history. She remained there until 1988 before moving back to Pakistan. Both CCA and the WCC were partners of the Commission in their human rights advocacy on rights of religious minorities and democratisation in Pakistan.

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She was jailed in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, which agitated against military dictator Zia ul Haq's regime and put under house arrest in 2007 for her activities on behalf of the Lawyers' Movement.

Jahangir regularly raised concerns about the Pakistan military and intelligence services, but also was a staunch defender of minority Christian who were charged with blasphemy, an offence that potentially carries the death penalty. She was appointed the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran in September 2016, pleasing neither the clergy of Iran nor that of Pakistan.

In a condolence message to Asma's family, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research Executive Director Karamat Ali and its staff expressed their profound sorrow and grief.

"I remember her profound articulations on several occasions at the United Nations fora about the human rights violations and persecutions against religious minorities in different parts of the world, especially misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan", he said. 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. Although she was not given permission to pursue her mandate within the country, she collected evidence of human rights violations and documented these for her submission to the General Assembly.

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.

  • Sonia Alvarado