The death of renowned Pakistani human rights advocate Asma Jahangir on Sunday elicited an outpouring of condolences and calls to action, with fellow advocates and political figures from across the globe calling for a wave of renewed energy in fights for freedom, to honor her memory.
"She was always on the front line for progressive voices, even when democracy was under threat."
—Sherry Rehman, friend and Pakistani politician
Jahangir, a lawyer by training, was jailed during the 1980s for her pro-democracy work, served for years as a United Nations special rapporteur, and helped found the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She died Sunday, after suffering a heart attack, at the age of 66.
"In Pakistan, she campaigned tirelessly for democracy and free speech, frequently receiving death threats for taking up causes such as criticizing the strict blasphemy laws of the conservative Muslim-majority country," Reuters notes. "She also represented several civil society organizations that were threatened with shutdown as well as families of several 'disappeared' activists over the past few years."
In 2014, Jahangir—along with whistleblower Edward Snowden, climate crusader Bill McKibben, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridge, and Sri Lankan human rights activist Basil Fernando—received The Right Livelihood Award, which is often called the Alternative Nobel Prize.
Both Snowden and McKibben turned to Twitter to express their condolences and remind the world about the causes Jahangir championed:
"Justice is a rare commodity." Remembering Asma Jahangir, extraordinarily brave human rights defender and winner of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award (@rlafoundation), the progressive Nobel Prize. https://t.co/B21kI3KBAq
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) February 11, 2018
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) February 11, 2018
"She was always on the front line for progressive voices, even when democracy was under threat," Sherry Rehman, an opposition senator in Pakistan's parliament, told Al-Jazeera. "As a close friend, we bickered on issues, but she introduced me to human rights when I was a young journalist.... We are all reeling from shock, the global human rights community is bereft—one of Pakistan's brightest faces is gone."
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Her unexpected passing was met with many more expressions of grief, coupled with demands that the global community take more action to improve human rights worldwide:
Heartbroken that we lost Asma Jahangir - a saviour of democracy and human rights.
I met her a week ago in Oxford. I cannot believe she is no more among us. The best tribute to her is to continue her fight for human rights and democracy. pic.twitter.com/Tf7VOYfvq5
— Malala (@Malala) February 11, 2018
Sad day given tragic loss of #AsmaJahangir the #HRC Special Rapporteur on Iran. A champion of #humanrights particular for women and religious minorities, who previously served as SR of freedom of religion. Sincere condolences! pic.twitter.com/EQoEAIziCR
— HRC SECRETARIAT (@UN_HRC) February 11, 2018
— Aseefa B Zardari (@AseefaBZ) February 11, 2018
Amnesty International's South Asia director Omar Waraich called Jahangir "the bravest person I knew:"
Asma Jahangir was the bravest person I knew. She fearlessly stood up to dictators, thugs, misogynists. She was never daunted by the attacks that came her way. She never wavered from her principles. Her loss is incalculable.
— Omar Waraich (@OmarWaraich) February 11, 2018
The BBC compiled a list outlining several of Jahangir's achievements:
- 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