Monday, February 12, 2018

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OP-ED - #AsmaJahangir - A tribute to an icon

Imaan Mazari-Hazir
In a society full of people who are too concerned about what people will think of them, Asma Jahangir was different: she only cared about her principles.

Words fall short when one tries to describe Asma Jahangir. She was one in a million, larger than life. She was a breath of fresh airin a world filled with hypocrites. Her honest commitment to human rights will continue to serve as a beacon of hope — not just for Pakistanis but those working for democracy, freedom of religion and belief, minority rights and peace all over the world.
It is almost impossible to find people like Asma Jahangir. It seems like there is no one like her left in Pakistan today. Why can no one fill this void? In a society full of people who are always looking over their shoulders, Asma Jahangir was fierce and courageous beyond measure. In a society full of people who are too concerned about what people will think of them, Asma Jahangir was different: she only cared about her principles.
For the farmers in Okara being oppressed by the military; for the youth in Balochistan being deprived of their fundamental human rights; for the Pashtun being stereotyped and labelled a terrorist; for the women who thought they were powerless in a male-dominated profession; for the minorities who face daily persecution; for those wrongly accused of blasphemy — for all these people and countless more, Asma Jahangir was the bravest soldier anyone could ever hope for.
Asma Jahangir has been a source of inspiration to me on a daily basis. She reached out to me whenever I have been in distress. She has laughed with my mother, despite their frequent disagreements. She has shown me in so many ways that no matter how hard the battle, one must always keep fighting. All the while, she maintained her amazing sense of humour. Whenever my mother would tell me Asma aunty was coming over, I would make sure to be there whether they wanted my presence or not. She was my hero and always will be. The last time I messaged her was on her birthday.
I wanted to send a long message thanking her for being this source of constant inspiration and hope in my life — but I was packing for a flight I had the next day and only managed to send a “happy birthday Asma aunty!” I feel a deep sense of loss and grief, which I cannot express in words. I really wish I had sent that longer message now because she was the kind of person who deserved to hear every single day how brilliant she was from everyone she ever knew.
There are no more Asma Jahangirs in Pakistan, but she gave us hope that maybe one day, we too could have a shred of the courage and strength she had
This hero of mine reached out to me a few months ago when a video I posted went viral on social media resulting in a flood of death threats and abuse. She called me to tell me to fight my battles with reason and rationality, and advised me not to allow my emotions to get the best of me. She held my mother’s hand and assured her nothing would happen to me. She spoke to my father and told him not to worry about me. Whenever she had spoken to me, I had been in awe of what she said and how she said it. She conducted herself like no one else I have ever known. Her charisma, her confidence, her spirit and generosity instilled a sense of calm in me.
We have lost our icon but her legacy lives on. Asma Jahangir’s work, whether within Pakistan or outside Pakistan, speaks volumes for who she was and how we will always remember her. There are no more Asma Jahangirs in Pakistan but she gave us hope that maybe one day we too could have a shred of the courage and strength she had to stand up and fight.

Most prefer to take the easier path. She never did. She took on the Salamat Masih case to defend a young boy falsely accused of blasphemy. She spoke up against the persecution of Ahmadis. She struggled like a lioness against dictatorships. She was clear and consistent from day one about what she stood for and how far she would go to defend the defenceless. She never feared for her own life despite the fact that the causes she chose to fight endangered that life, because she knew it was much too important to protect those who could not protect themselves. It was much too important to do the right thing even when nobody else had the moral courage to do so.
We will continue to mourn and reel in from the shock of this tragic loss. But the greatest way to remember Asma Jahangir is to fight for the voiceless and to struggle without fear. We have a difficult road ahead, but her memory will guide us in the right direction.
Rest in peace and power iron lady. You will be missed forever.

Pakistan: Asma Jahangir leaves behind a powerful human rights legacy

Asma Jahangir was a brave champion of human rights who leaves behind a powerful legacy, Amnesty International said today, mourning the 66-year-old Pakistani lawyer’s sudden death in Lahore on Sunday.

“For decades, Asma bravely fought for the most disadvantaged people in Pakistan, often at great personal risk. She championed the cause of women, children, bonded labourers, religious minorities, journalists, the disappeared, and so many others. She confronted injustice wherever she saw it,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

Asma Jahangir began leading protests as young schoolgirl. At the age of 18, she fought for the release of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, who had been arbitrarily detained by the military government of Gen. Yahya Khan, leading to an historic Supreme Court judgment.

For decades, Asma bravely fought for the most disadvantaged people in Pakistan, often at great personal risk. She championed the cause of women, children, bonded labourers, religious minorities, journalists, the disappeared, and so many others. She confronted injustice wherever she saw it
Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International
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A lawyer by training, Asma Jahangir and her sister, Hina Jilani, established Pakistan’s first all women legal firm in Lahore. Their clients included Christians facing death sentences on blasphemy charges, bonded labourers who had fled the oppressive grip of feudal landowners, and women who faced violence at home.

Asma Jahangir was one of the leaders of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF), which confronted Gen. Zia-ul-Haq’s Hudood Ordinance, which discriminated against women. In 1983, Asma Jahangir and other WAF protestors were subject to fierce violence at the hands of the police. She was arrested for the first time.

A pioneer of human rights in Pakistan, Asma Jahangir was also one of the founders of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a fiercely independent NGO she headed for several years.

In 1995, in the face of violent threats from vigilante mobs, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani successfully defended two Christian teenagers, Salamat Masih and Rehmat Masih, in their appeals against death sentences for blasphemy.

Asma Jahangir and the accused faced threats of violence throughout the case. At one point, she was shouted down by an angry crowd. Her car was smashed as she attempted to leave the court. Concerned for their safety, she sent her daughters abroad to continue their schooling. As she told Amnesty International at the time, “They have done everything to intimidate me. They have even turned on my two daughters. I have had to send them out of the country. Sometimes you have to pay such an unbearable price for what you believe in.”

Support from Amnesty International’s members gave her strength during that difficult time. “The actions of Amnesty International members make me feel safer and braver,” she said. Also, in 1995, Asma Jahangir became the second-ever winner of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, the first of many international accolades that would come her way.

Four years later, in 1999, a gunman burst into Asma Jahangir and her sister’s offices in Lahore and shot dead Samia Imran, a victim of domestic abuse, who had come there to seek help in divorcing her husband. One of the bullets narrowly missed Hina Jilani.

Asma’s sudden death is a loss not just for Pakistan, or for South Asia, but for the human rights movement globally. She leaves behind a powerful legacy that we must all honour by giving voice to those who are not being heard
Salil Shetty
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In 2007, Asma Jahangir was placed under house arrest by then General Pervez Musharraf when he imposed a state of emergency, suspending the constitution and arbitrarily detaining hundreds of people, including judges, opposition politicians and human rights defenders.

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.

One of Asma Jahangir’s most determined struggles has been against the unlawful and cruel practice of enforced disappearances. It was an issue she addressed in her last public speech just three days before her death at the “Pashtun Long March” in Islamabad. Over recent months, there has been a sharp increase in the number of enforced disappearances across Pakistan, stretching beyond conflict zones deep into the heart of its main cities.

Asma Jahangir’s human rights work went far beyond Pakistan. She served as a UN Special Rapporteur three times – on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, on freedom of religion or belief, and, most recently, on Iran. At the time of her death, Asma Jahangir was also a member of Amnesty International’s Regional Advisory Group for the Asia-Pacific region.

“Asma’s sudden death is a loss not just for Pakistan, or for South Asia, but for the human rights movement globally. She leaves behind a powerful legacy that we must all honour by giving voice to those who are not being heard,” said Salil Shetty.

#AsmaJahangir - #Pakistan Has Lost Its Moral Leader

Asma Jahangir wasn’t a politician, but she was the country’s most formidable force for good.
On Sunday, Pakistan’s greatest champion of human rights, democracy, and equality—Asma Jahangir—died in Lahore, at age 66, from a heart attack. She leaves behind her husband, three children, and a country that became fairer and more decent because of her work. Jahangir challenged military dictators, lambasted Islamist extremist groups, protected women’s rights, helped to found and lead the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and put herself at great risk by defending her country’s besieged minorities. She accomplished all this with her fearless voice and a dedication to the hard, practical work of politics and the law.

Jahangir came from a wealthy family in Punjab, and was only 6 when Pakistan faced its first coup, in 1958. Her father, a civil servant, decided to oppose the new military regime; he was arrested, for the first time, three years later, and his life was continually in danger. Jahangir’s response was precisely not to be cowed into believing that activism in a country like Pakistan is best undertaken hesitantly and intermittently; instead she was inspired to become an activist and human rights champion herself. By her late teens, she was demonstrating against the same dictator who had imprisoned her father and in favor of women’s rights. When she was 18, after her father had been arrested again, she even filed a petition to the Lahore High Court seeking his release. It was unsuccessful, but after she appealed to the Supreme Court, the martial law that had led to her father’s arrest was declared illegal.
The next decade, the 1970s, was Pakistan’s most turbulent, and by the time it was over, the country had lost half its population; East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh and the remaining western “wing” was ruled over by another brutal dictator, Zia-ul-Haq. Jahangir again chose to act, this time by studying law, and in 1980, she opened the first legal-aid center in Pakistan. (All the lawyers were women.) Over the next decade, she went to prison for contesting Zia’s misogynistic laws, and gave voice and legal support to victims of sexual assault. Zia’s Hudood ordinances, which he pushed through in his Islamicization drive, left women vulnerable to punishment for adultery (if, say, they were raped) and other sexual behavior. Jahangir bravely opposed them and took up a key case that helped ensure that adult women did not require a guardian’s approval to marry.
It’s easy, when going through Jahangir’s career, to feel like you are reading or typing an endless list of causes, achievements, and struggles. But the breadth of the battles she engaged in and causes she upheld are integral to understanding what was important to her and why she was so important to Pakistan. Like many heroic lawyers the world over, she often grounded her activism in the earthy realities of procedure; she fought for clients, trying to assure that they would have access to a fair trial, and she attempted to enunciate both why Pakistan would be better off if everyone had recourse to the law and why many of the laws should be more equitable. In 2007, she was placed under house arrest for her role in the so-called lawyer’s movement, which helped end Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship. Jahangir viewed her legal career as something that could help individual people and could lead to large-scale societal change. She eventually became president of the country’s Supreme Court Bar Association.
A friend related to me that when he and someone else were facing tear gas and the prospect of arrest during that same 2007 crisis, their thoughts immediately turned to getting Jahangir’s help if anything bad happened to them, or they were arrested. It was also Jahangir whom abused women were known to mention to their husbands, as if to say, “You keep this up, and I will go to Asma.” If she couldn’t help everyone, she at least gave the less fortunate—too often women—hope that there was someone out there standing up for them. That this same woman was willing to stand up to dictators and Islamist radicals—in a country where Christians and Muslim minorities face severe threats—is part of what made her so formidable. While her death is a reminder of the ways Pakistan is not yet the country she fought for, her attachment to the place was profound. She refused to leave the country when she was in danger, and yet she also never let her commitment to Pakistan blind her to its flaws; the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, she explained, would continue its focus on outrages in the country, even though turning the spotlight on other countries, like India, would have eased the nationalist pressure and cries of treason that she faced.
Her death occasioned a number of tributes from across the Pakistani political scene, proving once again that spineless, shameless politicians will always try to appropriate names or causes that they would never have stood up for in the heat of political battle. (The death of Martin Luther King Jr. had the same effect on the American political scene.) But don’t let the universal acclaim today mislead: Jahangir championed causes and people that few others would. And when they did, they often ended up like the former governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated seven years ago for speaking out against the country’s blasphemy law. Jahangir was not blind to the flaws of the civilian politicians who today have celebrated her, but she understood that civilian supremacy—rather than military rule—was a necessary condition for Pakistan to flourish. “However flawed democracy here is,” she once told the New Yorker, “it is still the only answer.”
Jahangir’s leadership was unique, but she was not fighting alone. It was impossible to meet anyone in the Pakistani activist or journalist community who did not have a story about her supporting their cause, pushing for their release from prison, or helping out a friend or relative. One journalist recounted to me the story of Jahangir reaching out after seeing her television report in order to offer aid to the person who had been profiled; it was, she told me, “one of the only moments where I felt I’d made a difference.” Many Pakistanis—especially liberal or secular ones—often speak of politics with a practiced, amusing cynicism. That was never the case when anyone brought up Jahangir; she was spoken of reverently, with real awe. She must have had to make compromises in her life—as everyone does, especially if you want to get things done in a country like Pakistan—but she appeared as unsullied by hypocrisy as humanly possible.
And yet, if Jahangir occasionally seemed to have a saintly glow, she was also biting and funny in public—just see her Twitter feed—and would get down in the muck with her adversaries. Heroes sometimes take the guise of apparitions, or seem unwilling to get their hands too dirty. She was the opposite. There was nothing she wouldn’t push for. The amount of good work and courage she showed should make us all wince a little bit, because it is an uncomfortable reminder that we could all be doing a little more to make our countries better and fairer. How fortunate we are to live among people who will never stop fighting—at least until they are lost to us, much too soon.

#AsmaJahangir - Remembering Asma Jahangir: We have lost a human rights giant, says UN secretary general

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed sorrow at the demise of prominent human rights defender and UN Special Rapporteur Asma Jahangir, who passed away at the age of 66 on Sunday.
“We have lost a human rights giant,” said Guterres in a statement by the UN office on Monday.
Doctors said Jahangir suffered brain hemorrhage following a stroke and passed away at the hospital. Her funeral is scheduled to be held at 2PM on Tuesday, February 13, at Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.
“Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind […] She will not be forgotten,” Guterres added, expressing his condolences to Jahangir's family, friends and colleagues, including in the UN and civil society.
According to the statement, Jahangir was the current UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, having assumed the position on November 1, 2016. Earlier, from 1998 to July 2004, she was the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and from August 2004 to July 2010, the special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which supports special rapporteurs and independent experts in the discharge of their mandate, also expressed its sadness at Jahangir's passing.
“She was a legendary human rights defender: pioneering, determined, calm, courageous – and a lovely human being,” the office said in a tweet posted on its official account.

#AsmaJahangir - #Pakistan - #PPP suspends activities for one day to mourn the death of Asma Jehangir

Pakistan People’s Party has suspended activities for one day to mourn the death of Asma Jehangir on Monday.

Party flags be will half mast at Bilawal House and all the offices in provinces, divisional and district headquarters while Party’s political activities have been suspended for the day to pay tributes to the valiant lady who fought together with the PPP and masses against dictatorial regimes during her whole life.

Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has directed the Party leadership at every tier to hold references for late Asma Jehangir to pay homage to her.