ISLAMABAD: Asma Jahangir, a leading Pakistani rights activist, fearless critic of the military’s interference into politics and a staunch defender of the rule of law, died Sunday in Lahore. She was 66.
The death was confirmed by her daughter Munizae Jahangir, who said the cause was a heart attack.
Jahangir, a human rights lawyer, had a reputation of speaking truth to power and defending the weak and the marginalized, 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.
She was the founding chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent group, and was a trustee of the International Crisis Group. She won several local and international awards and served as the United Nations rapporteur on human rights and extrajudicial killings.
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.
Born on Jan. 27, 1952, into an affluent family in Lahore, Asma Jilani Jahangir studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, receiving her bachelor’s degree from Kinnaird College in Lahore. She received her law degree from Punjab University in Lahore in 1978.
Jahangir was exposed to politics and activism at an early age. Her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, was a civil servant and a left-wing politician who was frequently jailed for opposing military dictators. Jahangir initially appeared in court to represent her jailed father.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has paid tribute to Pakistani right activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir following her death by cardiac arrest, praising her courage in campaigns for justice and equality for all.
“We have lost a human rights giant,” Guterres said in a statement after Jahangir’s death was announced on February 11.
He described the pro-democracy activist as “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 [UN] special rapporteur.”