By Nimra Noor, International Business Editor
Asma Jahangir, a leading Pakistani rights activist, fearless critic of the military’s interference in politics, and a staunch defender of the rule of law, died on Sunday, February 11. Her family confirmed that she passed away due to a cardiac arrest in the eastern city of Lahore at the age of 66.
An outspoken advocate for democracy, she was one of the most prominent voices against Pakistan’s military regimes in the 1980s and 2000s. News of her death led to an outburst of grief from the top tiers of Pakistan’s government, including President Mamnoon Hussain, who lauded Jahangir for her “unforgettable role” in campaigning for the rule of law and democracy. “Asma Jahangir’s death is a loss of a strong voice for the marginalized and oppressed. Despite our differences I always respected her for her fight for human rights and for standing up for her convictions,” a leading opposition leader, Imran Khan offered condolences on the passing of the activist.
Born on January 27 in 1952, Jahangir had a prominent career both as a lawyer and rights activist. She was the first woman to serve as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. Along with her sister, she set up the country’s first free legal aid center as well as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which is the most prominent independent monitor of human rights abuses in the country.
A fierce defender of democracy, she often criticized Pakistan’s military and intelligence. She defended minority Christians charged with blasphemy, an offense that under Pakistan’s controversial law carries the death penalty.
In 2007, she was house arrested for her role in the Lawyer’s Movement, a mass protest started by Pakistani lawyers in response to President Pervez Musharraf’s attempt to dismiss Pakistan’s Chief Justice. The protest helped lead to the resignation of the military leader.
In recent years, she campaigned against Pakistan’s death penalty as a punishment for blasphemy laws, for which she frequently received death threats. Jahangir also defended various civil society organizations that were targeted by the government as well as families of missing activists over the last few years, Reuters reported.
The activist received several national and international awards, including a Hilal-i-Imtiaz and Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s second- and third-highest civilian award. She is also the recipient of France’s Officier de la Légion d’honneur. In 2014, she was awarded the Right Livelihood Award and in 2010, the International Rescue Committee awarded her the Freedom Award. Jahangir also held the honor to be on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential women.
Even in her death, Jahangir overthrew conventions and her public funeral was attended by women who are generally not allowed to pray with men. “Asma’s sudden death is a loss not just for Pakistan, or for South Asia, but for the human rights movement globally. She leaves behind a powerful legacy that we must all honor by giving voice to those who are not being heard,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 27th print edition.
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