ONE OF Pakistan’s leading human rights advocates, Asma Jahangir, has died, her family said yesterday (11). She was 66.
The lawyer and co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan died of cardiac arrest, according to her sister.
“Unfortunately, we have lost her,” Hina Jilani, also a prominent rights activist and lawyer, said.
Prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expressed grief at Jahangir’s death, praising her contribution to upholding the rule of law and safeguarding human rights.
Jahangir faced death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases while standing up to dictators.
The United Nations secretary-general paid tribute to Pakistan’s “human rights giant”, praising her courage in campaigns for justice and equality for all.
Antonio Guterres issued his “heartfelt condolences” to those grieving the 66-year-old lawyer, who also once served as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
“We have lost a human rights giant,” the UN chief said in a statement.
“She was a tireless advocate for inalienable rights of all people and for equality – whether in her capacity as a Pakistani lawyer in the domestic justice system, as a global civil society activist, or as a Special Rapporteur. Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind.”
“The best tribute to her is to continue her fight for human rights and democracy,” tweeted Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, adding she had met Jahangir just last week in Oxford.
Few Pakistani rights activists have achieved the credibility of Jahangir.
In 2014 she received France’s highest civilian award and Sweden’s Right Livelihood Award, for her decades of rights work.
Pakistan social media has been flooded with an outpouring of grief for the loss of what many described as the country’s “moral compass”, while on Monday newspaper front pages were dominated by tributes to the nation’s leading human rights activist.
In its editorial “Asma the fearless”, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper said Jahangir was a citizen that all of Pakistan could be proud of and whom most can only hope to emulate.
“Principled and courageous, Asma’s willingness and determination to confront evil, defend the vulnerable, and insist on Pakistan living up to the ideals of its democratic, constitutional and secular foundations made her truly iconic,” the paper wrote.
Another English language daily, The News wrote that she “spoke out bravely and with immense courage for all the oppressed people of the country, essentially acting as the conscience of Pakistan”.
“Only her sudden death could silence her and steal away from us the bravest of the brave this country has produced,” it said.
Jahangir secured a number of victories during her life, from winning freedom for bonded labourers from their “owners” through pioneering litigation, to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own volition.
She was also an outspoken critic of the powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of Pakistan’s top bar association.
Jahangir was arrested in 2007 by the government of then-military ruler Pervez Musharraf and held under house arrest. In 2012 she claimed her life was in danger from the feared Inter Services Intelligence spy agency.