'Moral Compass' Asma Jahangir Laid to Rest

Pakistani mourners gather outside the home of human rights activist Asma Jehangir after the announcement of her death in Lahore on Sunday. — AFP

Thousands of people attended the funeral service at Gadhafi Stadium in the eastern city of Lahore on February 13, including Jahangir's relatives, friends, lawyers, politicians, intellectuals, and rights activists.

Yet, Asma Jahangir never succumbed while fighting for human rights and liberal values till she breathed her last at Lahore on Sunday. Marvi Sirmed, a senior Pakistani journalist who knew her personally, writes in The Daily Times how as a teenager she was inspired by "Asma ji's perseverance, her clarity of goal, her strength of character...her itch to question the powers of the time, and her passion to fearlessly fight for the oppressed and whatever she considered right, come what may".

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. She served as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions from 1998 to 2004.

Asma's sudden death is a loss not just for Pakistan, or for South Asia, but for the human rights movement globally. As a team consisting of lawyers and young feminists, we stand on Asma's shoulders and tread the path blazed by her.

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Asma is survived by her husband, Tahir Jahangir, whom she married in 1974, a son and two daughters, and Hina. She was repeatedly threatened by the country's militant religious right whom she criticized loudly and often.

Women rights activists, including Aurat Foundation's Mahnaz Rehman, Bushra Araen, Shireen Ijaz, Rahila Raheem, Mussrat Jabeen, Malka Khan, Mangal Sharma, Qamrun Nisa Dhamrah, Farhat Parveen and transgender activist Shahzadi Rai also lauded Jahangir's services and paid rich tribute to her.

As a woman-led organisation, we are indebted to the path that Asma paved for us through Pakistan's first women-run law firm, AGHS.

"I remember her profound articulations on several occasions at the United Nations fora about the human rights violations and persecutions against religious minorities in different parts of the world, especially misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan", he said.

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"In her teenage years, she came out on the roads against black laws and became an icon of hope", she said. She was a role model for hundreds of women in Pakistan for standing up to patriarchal norms, and gave a voice to the millions of voiceless in the country who continue to be persecuted day in and day out with complete impunity.

"Asma Jahangir was the bravest human being I ever knew".

In a separate statement, Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said she was a fearless champion of human rights who leaves behind a powerful legacy.

National Commission for Human Rights Sindh Member Anis Haroon said that during Ziaul Haq's dictatorship, women and minorities were repressed through the Hudood Ordinances and the Evidence Act and a ban was imposed on political parties and civil society organisations. With the voices of intolerance getting louder and louder-causing wars, displacement, inequality, gender discrimination, and meaningless violence-Asma Jahangir's was one that challenged the status quo and exposed it with fearlessness and clarity.

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