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Pakistani leading rights activist, Asma Jehangir, dies at 66

File photo of Asma Jehangir, Chairperson of The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) listens to a question during a launch ceremony of an annual report 'State of Human Rights' in Islamabad. (AFP)

Asma Jehangir, one of Pakistan’s prominent right activists and lawyers, has died of a heart attack in the eastern city of Lahore. She was 66.

Jehangir’s daughter, Muneeze, says that her mother suffered a heart attack late on Saturday night and was rushed to hospital where she died on Sunday. Jehangir was born on Jan 27 in 1952.

“Unfortunately we have lost her,” Hina Jilani, he sister and also a prominent rights activist, told AFP.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi expressed grief at Jahangir’s death, praising her contribution to upholding the rule of law and safeguarding human rights.

Jahangir’s supporters and former opponents alike took to social media to offer their condolences and expressed shock at the news of her death.

“Asma Jahangir was the bravest human being I ever knew. Without her the world is less,” wrote prominent Pakistani lawyer Salman Akram Raja.

“I and many others didn’t agree with some of her views. But she was a titan. And one of the brightest and bravest ever produced by this country,” wrote journalist Wajahat Khan on Twitter.

Jahangir received France’s highest civilian award in 2014 and Sweden’s alternative to the Nobel Prize for her decades of rights work.

Few Pakistani rights activists have achieved the credibility of Jahangir.

She braved death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases and stand up to dictators.

There is still terrible violence against women, discrimination against minorities and near-slavery for bonded laborers, but Jahangir told AFP during an interview in 2014 that human rights causes have made greater strides in Pakistan than it may appear.

She was the chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and respected for her outspoken criticism of the country’s militant and extreme Islamist groups and unparalleled record as rights activist.

Jehangir was also president of the Supreme Courts Bar Association and served as UN rapporteur on human rights.

She was on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential women.

“There was a time that human rights was not even an issue in this country. Then prisoners’ rights became an issue,” she said.

“Women’s rights was thought of as a Western concept. Now people do talk about women’s rights -- political parties talk about it, even religious parties talk about it.”

Jahangir secured a number of victories during her life, from winning freedom for bonded laborers from their “owners” through pioneering litigation to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own volition.

She was also been an outspoken critic of the country’s powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of Pakistan’s top bar association.

The 62-year-old was arrested in 2007 by the government of then military ruler Pervez Musharraf, and in 2012 claimed her life was in danger from the country’s feared Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency.

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Last Update: Sunday, 11 February 2018 KSA 15:38 - GMT 12:38
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