UN chief Guterres, Indian celebs mourn Pak rights activist Asma Jahangir

12 Feb 2018


United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has paid tribute to Pakistan's "human rights giant" Asma Jahangir following her death by cardiac arrest over the weekend, praising her courage in campaigns for justice and equality for all.

Guterres issued his "heartfelt condolences" to those grieving the 66-year-old lawyer, who co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and also once served as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

Jahangir was Pakistan's symbol of human rights and resistance and a fierce opponent of military dictators for over five decades. She was also a vocal advocate of India-Pakistan peace and was part of several 'Track 2' delegations to India.

"We have lost a human rights giant," the UN chief said in a statement released after Jahangir's death was announced on Sunday.

"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." 

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.

Her appeal was not restricted to Pakistan. The Indian press too headlined her passing away, while tributes poured in from India too.

Scriptwriter, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar tweeted, ''Asma Jahangir, undoubtedly the bravest and the most resilient fighter for human rights who had the courage to face the wrath of the dictators and the fury of the fundamentalist Mulla has passed away. It is the loss of the whole Sub continent."

Actress Shabana Azmi remembered her friend, whom she deeply respected and courage. ''Just heard the devastating news that Asma Jehangir passed away … Pakistan has lost its most fearless crusader and the human rights movement its tallest leader. Our deepest condolences to the family,'' she wrote.

Director Mahesh Bhatt called Asma ''an extraordinary woman who fought for ordinary people … Asmaji had the audacity and the courage to fight for a fairer world. Thank you for touching our lives.''

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.

Asma was the first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. The Dawn edit said, ''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."

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".

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

The rights commission which she helped create made its name defending religious minorities and tackling highly charged blasphemy accusations along with cases of "honour" killings - in which victims, normally women, are murdered by a relative for bringing shame on the family.

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.

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