A loss for the human rights movement globally

Amnesty International on Asma Jahangir.

“For decades, Asma bravely fought for the most disadvantaged people in Pakistan, often at great personal risk. She championed the cause of women, children, bonded labourers, religious minorities, journalists, the disappeared, and so many others. She confronted injustice wherever she saw it,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

Asma Jahangir began leading protests as young schoolgirl. At the age of 18, she fought for the release of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, who had been arbitrarily detained by the military government of Gen. Yahya Khan, leading to an historic Supreme Court judgment.

A lawyer by training, Asma Jahangir and her sister, Hina Jilani, established Pakistan’s first all women legal firm in Lahore. Their clients included Christians facing death sentences on blasphemy charges, bonded labourers who had fled the oppressive grip of feudal landowners, and women who faced violence at home.

Asma Jahangir was one of the leaders of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF), which confronted Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s Hudood Ordinance, which discriminated against women. In 1983, Asma Jahangir and other WAF protestors were subject to fierce violence at the hands of the police. She was arrested for the first time.

A pioneer of human rights in Pakistan, Asma Jahangir was also one of the founders of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a fiercely independent NGO she headed for several years.

In 1995, in the face of violent threats from vigilante mobs, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani successfully defended two Christian teenagers, Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih, in their appeals against death sentences for blasphemy.

In 2007, Asma Jahangir was placed under house arrest by then General Pervez Musharraf when he imposed a state of emergency, suspending the constitution and arbitrarily detaining hundreds of people, including judges, opposition politicians and human rights defenders.

In 2010, she became the first woman to be elected President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, overcoming a campaign that was marked by scurrilous attacks on her and her family by rivals and critics in the media.

Asma Jahangir’s human rights work went far beyond Pakistan. She served as a UN Special Rapporteur three times – on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, on freedom of religion or belief, and, most recently, on Iran. At the time of her death, Asma Jahangir was also a member of Amnesty International’s Regional Advisory Group for the Asia-Pacific region.

“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 honour by giving voice to those who are not being heard,” said Salil Shetty.

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