Eminent lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir passed away in Lahore after she suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday, according to Pakistan media. She was 66. “Asma suffered heart attack today morning and she was rushed to Hameed Latif Hospital Lahore where she breathed her last. Doctors tried to save her life but couldn’t,” senior lawyer Adeel Raja said.
Born in Lahore in Janurary 1952, Jahangir dedicated her distinguished career to defending the rights of women, minorities, and children from religious extremism, honor killings, and blasphemy laws. Known for maintaining a resolute stance in the face of extreme pressure and opposition, Jahangir will be remembered as a champion for the disenfranchised.
The firebrand human rights activist graduated from Kinnaird College and later pursued an LLB from Punjab University. She was called to the Lahore High Court in 1980 and to the Pakistan Supreme Court two years later.
Subsequently, Jahangir went on to become the first woman to serve as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. Besides serving as Bar Association President, Jahangir also served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Execution and as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
In addition, she had investigated government abuses ranging from forced disapperances to extrajudicial killings.
In the 1980s, Jahangir became a democracy activist and was jailed in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq. Four years later, she co-founded the Human Rights Commision of Pakistan and served as its Secretary General until 1993 when she was elevated as commission’s chairperson.
She was also active in the 2007 Lawyers’ Movement, for which she was put under house arrest. For her relentless struggle for a secular civil society, Jahangir was rewarded with several prestigious awards, including a Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2010 and a Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan second and third highest civilian awards, respectively.
She was also awarded a UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights and an Officier de la Légion d’honneur by France. She received the 2014 Right Livelihood Award and the 2010 Freedom Award.
Jahangir authored many articles, scholarly works and two books, “Divine Sanction: The Hudood Ordinance (1988, 2003) and “Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan” (1992).
She is survived by two daughters and a son. Her daughter Muneezay Jehangir is a TV anchor.