The Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) ecumenical group has paid tribute to the internationally renowned Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, who died yesterday (Sunday) after suffering a stroke. She was 66-years-old. Jahangir had been closely associated with the human rights advocacy initiatives of the CCA and the World Council of Churches (WCC) for several years. Both the Asian and global ecumenical movement worked with Asma Jahangir on the global advocacy against the misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan.
Asma Jahangir co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Both CCA and the WCC were partners of the Commission in their human rights advocacy on rights of religious minorities and democratisation in Pakistan.
Following news of her death, the CCA expressed its “deep condolences” to her family, friends and admirers. “Asma Jahangir was a strong advocate for democratisation and human rights, and she promoted the cause of developing a counter liberal politics to challenge growing religious intolerance and politicisation of religion,” CCA’s General Secretary, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, said. “She was concerned about the increasing trend of impunity among those who commit crimes in the name of religion, and she advocated that this trend has to be addressed with a sense of urgency”.
Dr Chunakara said that while Jahangir served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, he had several opportunities to work with her on behalf of the CCA and WCC in the 1990s and 2000s.
“I remember her profound articulations on several occasions at the UN fora about the human rights violations and persecutions against religious minorities in different parts of the world, especially misuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan,” he said. “While addressing the Asia plenary session of the Central Committee meeting of the WCC in the early 2000’s, Asma Jahangir reminded the international ecumenical community how important it is to be careful about the trend in many countries bringing religion into legislations, as the law itself can become an instrument of persecution against religious minorities.”
Jahangir was put under house arrest in 2007 after the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan. She had been an ardent critic of authoritarianism and imposition of the emergency. She had been a tenacious fighter for democratisation and civil rights in Pakistan.
After serving as one of the leaders of the Lawyers’ Movement, she became the first woman to serve as President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association. She provided leadership for several Asian human rights organisations as well as for the International Federation for Human Rights; and contributed to UN panels inquiring into Sri Lankan human rights violations and a fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements.