Human Rights First mourns the passing of the courageous, pioneering Pakistani lawyer and human rights defender, Asma Jahangir. We are proud of our long history of cooperation with Asma, dating back over thirty years. In Pakistan, we campaigned with her in support of women’s rights, judicial independence, and the rule of law, and against the use of draconian blasphemy laws to restrict religious freedom and freedom of expression.
As a leader of the international human rights movement we supported her work as a three-time UN Special Rapporteur. She was the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, assuming the position on November 1, 2016. Earlier, from 1998 to 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. She was instrumental in convening human rights activists from around the world to monitor and resist the misuse of counterterrorism laws by governments as a pretext to curtail rights and freedoms.
Asma received Human Right First’s annual award, with her sister Hina Jilani, for their work promoting women’s rights in Pakistan. They had established Pakistan’s first free legal aid center in Lahore in the 1980s. Asma went on to be the founder of Pakistan’s leading human rights organization, the Pakistan Human Rights Commission and the first woman president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association.
Despite facing death threats, repeated house arrests, and imprisonment, she continued her work with an indomitable spirit. She was an inspiration to millions in Pakistan and around the world. Her much younger countrywoman, Malala Yousafzai, said, “The best tribute to her is to continue her fight for human rights and democracy.” We echo that sentiment.
Human Rights First extends its condolences to Asma’s family and to her many friends and colleagues around the world who feel a great loss at her passing, but who will find strength in her legacy for many years to come.
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