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Pakistan bids farewell to human rights activist Asma Jahangir

Asma Jahangir, who was 66, served as chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and was widely respected for her outspoken criticism of militant and extremist groups.

world Updated: Feb 13, 2018 19:12 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Pakistan,Asma Jahangir,Lahore
Pakistani students light candles to pay tribute to Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jehangir in Karachi on Monday. (AP)

Thousands of men and women attended the funeral prayers for Asma Jahangir at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Tuesday, bidding farewell to the diminutive rights activist described by some as Pakistan’s “moral compass”.

In a break with tradition, men and women jointly offered prayers, an unusual sight in conservative Pakistan. Many women also helped carry Jahangir’s body to her farmhouse, where she was later buried.

The prayers were led by Farooq Haider Maududi, son of Abul Ala Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Local media reported that the human rights lawyer, who died of cardiac arrest on Sunday aged 66, received no less than a state funeral, with thousands joining the funeral procession. The participants were allowed into the stadium through the FIFA Gate on Ferozepur Road.

Following an appeal by her elder sister, advocate Hina Jilani, and several women’s organisations, hundreds of women attended the funeral and helped with the final rites.

The funeral prayers were held under tight security. Lawyers in black blazers, leading politicians, intellectuals and activists joined citizens at the stadium, where camera drones flew overhead as mourners accompanied the body with flowers and wreaths.

“Asma’s death has created a wide gap that looks to be never filled,” college teacher Said Raheem Ul Haque told AFP.

Jahangir co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and also served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. She was the first woman lawyer in Pakistan to have been granted the status of senior advocate by the Supreme Court.

She was widely admired in the international humanitarian community and was seen as a champion of the downtrodden in Pakistan, which has a troubled rights record, especially for minorities.

Her death sparked an outpouring of tributes from global human rights groups and political leaders, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – who called her a “human rights giant” – and Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Newspaper front pages have been dominated by accolades to “Asma the fearless”, while social media has seen a tsunami of acclamations, with many questioning what Pakistan will do without her.

“Once you get over the shock and sadness, there is eventually a panic about how we will find our moral compass now. Rest in power @Asma_Jahangir,” tweeted Ahmer Naqvi of music platform Patari.

Jahangir faced death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases while standing up to dictators. The rights commission that she helped create made its name defending religious minorities and tackling highly charged blasphemy accusations along with cases of “honour” killings or murders of women by relatives for bringing shame on the family.

She was an outspoken critic of the powerful military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of the Supreme Court bar association, and also criticised the apex court over “judicial activism”.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Feb 13, 2018 17:52 IST