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Asma Jehangir: a symbol of resistance, a votary of peace

Pakistan’s iron lady was a fierce opponent of dictatorships

Asma Jehangir was the country’s symbol of human rights and resistance and a fierce opponent of military dictators for over four decades. She was also a vocal advocate of India-Pakistan peace and was part of several ‘Track 2’ delegations to India.

Born in Lahore on January 27, 1952, Ms. Jehangir had a prominent career both as a lawyer and a rights activist. After obtaining a law degree from the Punjab University in 1978, she started her career as an advocate at the judiciary.

She soon became a champion democracy activist and was subsequently imprisoned in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against the military rule of Zia-ul-Haq.

She braved death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases while standing up to dictators.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which she helped create, made its name defending religious minorities and tackling highly charged blasphemy accusations along with cases of “honour” killings.

“There was a time that human rights was not even an issue in this country... Women’s rights was thought of as a Western concept. Now people do talk about women’s rights — political parties talk about it, even religious parties talk about it,” she once said.

She often defended minority Christians charged with blasphemy, an offence that carries the death penalty. She was repeatedly threatened by the country’s militant religious right whom she criticised loudly and often.

Ms. Jahangir has also taken up cases of missing persons and fought in the courts for their recovery free of cost. She played an active role in the famous lawyers’ movement in 2007 to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The movement later brought the fall of then President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Ms. Jehangir also served as president of the Supreme Court’s Bar Association and was a UN rapporteur on human right and extrajudicial killings. She was once on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential women.

Of late, she had been critical of the Supreme Court for its ‘judicial activism’ and had also criticised the apex court for disqualifying Nawaz Sharif from the office of Prime Minister in July last year. She won numerous national and international awards for her struggle for the oppressed including the highest civilian honours Hilal-i-Imtiaz and Sitara-i-Imtiaz.

Ms. Jehangir is survived by her businessman husband, Tahir Jehangir, a son and two daughters.

Condolences poured in from within and outside the country. Leaders of all political parties paid rich tributes to her. President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi both expressed grief and sorrow. The President, in his condolence message, said that Ms. Jahangir played an unforgettable role towards upholding of democracy and human rights.

Mr. Abbasi lauded Ms. Jahangir for her immense contribution towards upholding rule of law, democracy and safeguarding human rights. He termed her demise as a great loss for legal fraternity.

Confronting dictatorship

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that Ms. Jahangir had always been in the forefront when it came to confronting dictatorship in the country. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and other judges of the apex court also expressed deep sorrow and grief over the demise.

Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan said in a statement that Ms. Jehangir was not only a jewel of legal fraternity of Pakistan but also was a great human being. “She was the greatest and devoted supporter of Constitution... Her voice raised for the women’s rights, child abuse and women’s protection change the course of society rights in Pakistan,” the Bar said.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 4:56:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/asma-jehangir-a-symbol-of-resistance-a-votary-of-peace/article22723808.ece

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