Woman who stared down dictators is gone

Published: February 11, 2018


ISLAMABAD: Dictators couldn’t break her. Terrorists couldn’t scare her. In the end, it was her own heart that took her.

Lawyer and rights activist Asma Jahangir died on Sunday after suffering cardiac arrest. She was 66. Her funeral will be held at Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday, to allow relatives based abroad to return home. Born to bureaucrat Malik Ghulam Jilani and Sabiha Jilani in Lahore on January 27, 1952, Jahangir was best known for her pro-democratic and human rights activism. She is survived by her husband Tahir Jahangir, two daughters, and a son.

She attended Convent of Jesus and Mary in Lahore and later Kinnaird College, from where she earned a BA. She then went to Punjab University, from where she earned an LLB degree in 1978.

Jahangir held several prominent positions throughout her life and also holds the distinction of being the first female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). She was elected the 13th President of the SCBA and held the office from November 1, 2010 to October 31, 2011. She remained active as a lawyer throughout her life, as well as working for the welfare of the lawyer community.

Jahangir held a prominent position as a lawyer and human rights activist, especially for the rights of women and minorities in Pakistan. She was appointed the United Nations Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran on September 30, 2016 and held the position till her death. She was also one of the founding members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) since it was established in 1987, and served as its Secretary General until 1993. That same year, she became HRCP’s chairperson, but later resigned when she decided to contest the election for the SCBA presidency.

Jahangir’s life-long struggle for democracy also led to periods of incarceration and house arrest. In 1983, she was imprisoned for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy during the regime of General Ziaul Haq. She was later put under house arrest during the Lawyers Movement in 2007.

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For her work, Jahangir has received many awards throughout her life including the 2014 Right Livelihood Award, 2010 Freedom Award as well as the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Ramon Magsaysay Award, Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights and Officier de la Légion d’honneur by France.

HRCP Chairperson Dr Mehdi Hasan told The Express Tribune that since its inception, HRCP became known because of Asma Jahangir and her work. He said that she had a lot of contributions for the rights of women and minorities, and for democracy in Pakistan. “She had worked with courage all her life. She has introduced Pakistan as a state where human rights were valued”.

He said, “I think people should know more about the many activists who have passed, who made contributions to this country. It is tragedy for Pakistan that those who die, the void left behind is not filled. This is because our system does not ensure their replacement”.

“I will remember Asma Jahangir as a democrat and an excellent human rights activist,” Dr Hasan added.

Lahore Bar Association (LBA) President Malik Arshad, a member of the Friends Group led by Jahangir, remembers her as a champion of human rights and “one of the most prominent women of Pakistan”. He said, “In Pakistan, I think, after Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir was the only internationally-known Pakistani woman. Outside Pakistan, she was the reason why the country had a positive image”.

Malik Arshad said she remained steadfast all her life and stood by her principles in the toughest of circumstances. Even in the face of dictators, she never budged. “She was an iron lady and always sided with truth and justice”. She also upheld the rule of law and struggled for it throughout her life.

“I think Asma Jahangir is one of few champions of human rights in this century. She also worked for women rights,” he said, adding that she had dedicated her life to the welfare of the poor and always worked for their benefit.

As a senior lawyer and activist, Arshad said that she always took care of the legal fraternity, especially female lawyers, as well as encouraging young lawyers. “She has been at the forefront of numerous welfare programmes for the community and some of the things she did for the community was getting a lawyers’ hostel built along with a housing society for lawyers,” he added.

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Reader Comments (20)

  • ajay gupta
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:14PM

    RIP. Pakistan has lost a really liberal voiceRecommend

  • Muhammad
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:24PM

    Our religion, customs and values have thought us not to say any thing negative to a person who has passed away. And I will stick to that.

    May her sins be forgiven and may she rest in peace.Recommend

  • Liaquat Ali
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:36PM

    She was so brave lady. May her soul rest in peace Recommend

  • Ambareen
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:43PM

    A hero to many victims, a champion of democracy, someone who stood up for what was right regardless of how unpopular it made her or the danger it put her in. A sad sad day for PakistanRecommend

  • Salman
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:48PM

    Despite her conflicting role had been emerged out for uncalled for issues stood contray to interest of general public, her unflinching role for preserving human rights to be remembered forever. She was good orator, having vivid stance on national, international issues to which she waged marvellous struggle after refusing to limit on verbal support like her contemporaries. Grieved Recommend

  • rk singh
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:53PM

    RIP. She fought passionately for what she believed- till her last day.Recommend

  • Ali
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:56PM

    Not sure why is there a thank God for losing one of the brightest lights of human rights and rule of law. Doob Maro!Recommend

  • Iqbal Khan
    Feb 11, 2018 - 2:58PM

    I am very sad to hear. She was the light and the voice of Pakistan. Always fighting for the right and thinking of the mankind.

    May Allah reward her the highest place in jannah.Recommend

  • Noman
    Feb 11, 2018 - 3:01PM

    Rest in Peace !Recommend

  • Iqbal Hadi Zaidi
    Feb 11, 2018 - 3:34PM

    Suitable words to describe the living legend Asma Jahangir simply cannot be found in dictionary to be honest. In male dominated country she has very rightly excelled over many males what to talk of females. She in her life has never ever compromised on principles come what may. I pray she lives in peace, aameen. Iqbal Hadi Zaidi / Kuwait / zaidi.formerdiplomat@hotmail.comRecommend

  • Mumtaz
    Feb 11, 2018 - 3:39PM

    A brave character a renowned activist a true woman who has life full of struggles is no more with us. We will never forget her work her statements her speeches where she never compromised with mights and fought and kept fighting
    Time to tribute Asma Jahangir Recommend

  • M.S.
    Feb 11, 2018 - 6:33PM

    We may not agree with her views but she was not an enemy of Pakistan as portrayed by some. She was not a spy nor a double agent. She did not sell Pakistanis to foreign powers nor provided shelter and training to terrorists. She was law abiding citizen and paid her taxes from which many of her enemies were paid salaries and perks. Recommend

  • saeed
    Feb 11, 2018 - 7:32PM

    Sad news, you fought great fight for people with conscious Thanks. RIP Recommend

  • Basma
    Feb 11, 2018 - 7:42PM

    An unbelievable loss for the country! I hope the government includes a chapter in the school curriculum so that our children know her name and her endless work to protect the human rights of the suppressed in the country. Asma Jahangir is our precious heritage! We must protect her name and her work. We must inform the next generation how she boldly fought for the freedom of speech in Pakistan during the brutal Zia dictatorship. Her services for democracy and protecting human rights in Pakistan should not be taken for granted. She deserves much more state level recognition than just a state funeral. Recommend

    Feb 11, 2018 - 7:42PM

    Listen to sane voices for Pakistan’s progress.Recommend

  • Alien1
    Feb 11, 2018 - 10:55PM

    RIP, she was a champion of human rights!!!!!Recommend

  • Attorney Tausif Kamal
    Feb 11, 2018 - 11:09PM

    Asma’s passing away is a huge, huge loss to our nation and to our people, for whom she fought so bravely and selflessly.. Asma was the conscience of Pakistan. A true hero of the country. May Almighty bless her in eternity and bless her in Jannat. AmeenRecommend

  • Fahad
    Feb 12, 2018 - 12:00AM

    May Allah forgive her for her sinsRecommend

  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Feb 12, 2018 - 2:05AM

    A really sad end of a exceptionally gifted human right advocate. She was one of a few people from across the border i truely respected without any bias or hatred. Rip asma bibiji..rab rakhaRecommend

  • Viraf Mehta
    Feb 12, 2018 - 8:50PM

    With so much to do in the area of Human Rights, God took away Ms. Jahangir too, too soon. We in India mourn her loss. May she rest in eternal peace. Brave soul indeed. Recommend

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