02/12/2018, 10.54
PAKISTAN

'Human rights and democracy champion' Asma Jahangir has died

Shafique Khokhar

The woman passed away at the age of 66 from cardiac arrest. She was a famous activist and Supreme Court lawyer. She co-founded the Pakistani Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. "We lose a legend. Pakistani civil society has been orphaned".

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Renowned senior lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir passed away in Lahore on Sunday. The family told that she suffered from cardiac arrest and was shifted to a hospital, where she passed. She was 66. Asma Jahangir is considered the "champion of human rights and democracy in Pakistan". Many political and entertainment figures have entrusted messages of condolence to social media. Some of her former colleagues tell AsiaNews of their profound grief over the loss of the "most famous, indefatigable and courageous champion of civil liberties".

The activist was born in Lahore in 1952. She has worked in the Supreme Court since the age of 30. Imprisoned in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against the then military government of the general-president Zia ul-Haq, she co-founded the Pakistani Human Rights Commission and was the first president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. She received several awards for her incessant activity in favor of democratic freedoms: in 2010 the Sitara-e-Imtiaz [third civil honor awarded to those who stand out in defense of security and national interests, world peace, culture - ed) and the Freedom Award, in 2014 the Right Livelihood Award.

Ishtiaq Ahmed, a professor emeritus of Stockholm University and a professor outside the Government College University Lahore, said: “I learnt with great shock and grief the death of Pakistan's most famous, indefatigable and brave human rights champion, Madam Asma Jahangir. I had the occasional only once in life to meet her and attend a meeting being held by her where the late Dr Javed Iqbal was the main speaker. On the other hand, because of her dedication and extreme courage she was known to millions of us who valued human rights and human dignity. The number of times she took up cudgels on behalf of those oppressed and denied their human rights cannot be counted because she was at the forefront of all major showdowns with the Deep State.She was a democrat and always stood up for civil liberties and the freedoms of people. Such people are the real asset of a nation. Today Pakistan has been deprived of one of her finest daughters. I and many of us would like to convey our deepest, heartfelt condolences to her family. She will always be remembered as an outspoken critic of dictatorship and abuse of power.”

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCPJ), adds: "No words can do justice to the personality that Ms. Asma Jehangir was. It is not just our loss but the whole nation and international loss. Today we have lost a Legend and I may not be wrong in saying that the civil society of Pakistan has been orphaned with the loss of her".

Farooq Tariq, spokesperson for the Awami Workers Party and secretary general of Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, has worked together with the deceased activist since 1990. "For me it is the most incredible news of my life - he says - Worked together since 1990, as a close friend and comrade, fought against dictatorial trends and for a genuine democracy, she was always on the side of working class, an activists that no one can match".

Bonnie Mendes, former executive secretary of the NCJP, reports that Asma Jahangir " Asma Jehangir was one of the first Pakistani women to take the profession of a lawyer and she mastered the art so well that she rose to be the President of the Bar. That is no small feat in the context of Pakistan where the profession had very few women lawyers. Even today they are a minority in the profession. Asma Jehangir defended the innocent with passion; the case of Salamat Masih comes to mind immediately. He was sentenced to death by the Session Court, Lahore, in early February, 1995; he had to go to his death cell in the clothes he was wearing. He had not worn warm clothes for the trial as during the day, with the sun was shining one could manage without warm clothes. Asma was not merely saddened by the harsh judgement, but also determined to get him warm clothes in his death cell. With Fr Mani, the Justice and Peace Director, she managed to get Salamat Masih the warm clothes in jail. Later Salamat Masih was declared not guilty by the High Court, Lahore. I remember the time between the first verdict and the second, how passionate she was to get the innocent boy release ". "Asma Jahangir - concludes the priest - had created a niche for herself in the country. Any Human Rights issue and she was there in the fore front to defend the victims. She will be missed not merely in the country but across the globe because she attended different forums and spoke up on Human Rights with clarity. Today she has gone for her eternal reward for reaching out to the poor and marginalised, even if the cost was big".

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