South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

ISLAMABAD: The New York Times has paid tribute to Pakistan’s human rights champion, Asma Jahangir.

Eminent lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir passed away on Sunday in Lahore due to a cardiac arrest.

Her sudden passing at the age of 66 has left the country shocked and her admirers rattled.

The New York Times ran an obituary, titled: Asma Jahangir, Fearless Pakistani Rights Activist, Dies at 66.

“Ms. Jahangir, a human rights lawyer, had a reputation of speaking truth to power and defending the weak and the marginalised, women and minorities against injustice. She gained international acclaim for being the voice of conscience in a country where liberal, secular voices have been continuously under threat.

Ms. Jahangir never minced words while defending democracy and human rights, despite threats to her life, both from military dictators and militants. She championed the rights of religious minorities — especially those who were charged under the country’s blasphemy laws — and women and men killed in the name of honour,” it read.

“While Ms. Jahangir was widely respected internationally, she faced bitter criticism from the military and right-wing nationalists. She was attacked for advocating peace with India, and was often accused of being an Indian agent or a traitor.

Her criticism of the country’s military and its intelligence agencies made her a target of campaigns on television and social media.

Some Pakistanis accused her of looking the other way when it came to the corruption of two mainstream political parties — the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — and of being single-mindedly focused on criticising the military.”

Meanwhile, a news report ran by BBC said: The pro-democracy activist championed women’s rights throughout her career.

She was imprisoned in 1983 and put under house arrest in 2007. Five years ago, leaked documents suggested that some intelligence officers had planned to kill her.

Ms Jahangir called for an inquiry at the time, demanding the government “find the forces who wanted to silence” her.

More recently she spoke out against BBC Persian journalists being put on trial in Iran, as part of her role as UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran.

Asma Jahangir’s career:

  • Trained as a lawyer and worked in Pakistan’s Supreme Court from age 30
  • A critic of the military establishment
  • Jailed in 1983 for pro-democracy activities
  • Put under house arrest in 2007 for opposing military leader’s removal of Supreme Court chief justice
  • Co-founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and of the first free legal aid centre in Pakistan
  • Co-founder of the Women’s Action Forum, set up to oppose law that reduced a woman’s testimony in court to half that of a man’s
  • The first female leader of Pakistan’s Supreme Court bar association
  • Winner of several awards including the Unesco/Bilbao prize for the promotion of a culture of human rights and the French Legion of Honour
  • Served as UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and on human rights in Iran


Updated On: 12.02.2018