Asma Jahangir

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Asma Jilani Jahangir
Asma Jahangir Four Freedoms Awards 2010 cropped.jpg
Asma Jahangir, having received the Four Freedoms Award for Freedom of Worship in 2010
Supreme Court Bar Association
Taking office
27 October 2010
President Asif Ali Zardari
Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf
Succeeding Qazi Anwar
Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
In office
1987 – Incumbent
Personal details
Born Asma Jilani
January 1952 (age 62)
Lahore, Punjab province, West-Pakistan (now-Pakistan)
Nationality Pakistani
Children 1 son and 2 daughters
Residence Islamabad, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT)
Alma mater Punjab University (LL.B.)
Kinnaird College (BA)
University of St. Gallen (JSD)
Occupation President of supreme court bar association
Profession Lawyer and Human rights activist
Supreme Court of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Chief Justice of Pakistan
Notable Awards Hilal-i-Imtiaz (2010)
Martin Ennals Award (1995)
Ramon Magsaysay Award
Leo Eitinger Award (2002)
Four Freedoms Award (2010)

Asma Jilani Jahangir (Urdu: عاصمہ جہانگیر‎: ʿĀṣimah Jahāṉgīr) (born 27 January 1952 in Lahore) is a leading Pakistani lawyer, advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, President Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan and human rights activist, who works both in Pakistan and internationally to prevent the persecution of religious minorities, women, and exploitation of children.

She was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief from August 2004 to July 2010 (first attached to the former Commission on Human Rights, now to the Human Rights Council). Previously, she served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. She is also chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Early life[edit]

Jahangir was born into a prosperous and politically active family with a history of activism and human rights work. Her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, was a civil servant who entered politics upon retirement and spent years both in jail and under house arrest for opposing military dictatorships. Her father was imprisoned on several occasions for his outspoken views, which included denouncing the Pakistani government for genocide during their military action in what is now Bangladesh. Her mother, educated at a co-ed college at a time when few Muslim women even received higher education, also fought the traditional system, pioneering her own clothing business when the family's lands were confiscated in 1967 as a result of her husband's opinions and detention.[1] Jahangir herself became involved at a young age in protests against the military regime as well as opposing her father's detention by then president, Benazir Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972. She received her B.A. from Kinnaird College, Lahore and her law degree in 1978,[2] and her LLB from Punjab University. She also holds an honorary doctorate from University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.,[3] Queens University, Canada and Cornell University,


She has spent her career defending the human and women rights, rights of religious minorities and children in Pakistan. Jahangir was and remains a staunch critic of the Hudood Ordinance and blasphemy laws of Pakistan put in place as part of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization program in Pakistan.[4][5] She is a founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and has served as Secretary-General and later Chairperson of the organisation.

In 1980, Jahangir and her sister, Hina Jilani, got together with fellow activists and lawyers to form the first law firm established by women in Pakistan. In the same year they also helped form the Women's Action Forum (WAF), a pressure group campaigning against Pakistan's discriminatory legislation, most notably against the Proposed Law of Evidence, where the value of a woman's testimony was reduced to half that of a man's testimony, and the Hadood Ordinances, where victims of rape had to prove their innocence or else face punishment themselves.[6] On 12 February 1983, the Punjab Women Lawyers Association in Lahore organised a public protest (one of its leaders was Jahangir) against the Proposed Law of Evidence, during which Jahangir and other participating WAF members were beaten, teargassed, and arrested by police.[7]

The first WAF demonstration, however, took place in 1983 when some 25–50 women took to the streets protesting the controversial case of Safia Bibi. In 1983, Safia, a blind 13-year-old girl, was raped by her employers, and as a result became pregnant, yet ended up in jail charged with fornication (zina) sentenced to flogging, 3 years of imprisonment and fined. (Jahangir defended Safia in her appeal and eventually the verdict was over-ruled by an appeals court due to pressure and protests.)[8] They would say: "We (their law firm) had been given a lot of cases by the advocate general and the moment this demonstration came to light, the cases were taken away from us."[9]

In 1982 Jahangir earned the nickname "little heroine" after leading a protest march in Islamabad against a decision by then-president Zia ul Haq to enforce religious laws and stated: "Family laws [which are religious laws] give women few rights" and that "They have to be reformed because Pakistan cannot live in isolation. We cannot remain shackled while other women progress."[10]

In 1986 Jahangir and Hina set up AGHS Legal Aid, the first free legal aid centre in Pakistan. The AGHS Legal Aid Cell in Lahore also runs a shelter for women, called 'Dastak'. Look after by her secretary Munib Ahmed.[11]

She is also a proponent of protecting the rights of persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan and speaks out against forced conversions.[12]

Jahangir has campaigned against human rights abuses taking place in government and police custody in Pakistan. In a letter to the New York Times, she said that "Women are arrested, raped and sexually assaulted every day in the presence of female constables, who find themselves helpless in such situations."[13]

In 1996 the High Court in Lahore ruled that an adult Muslim woman could not get married without the consent of her male guardian (wali). Women, who chose their husbands independently, could be forced to annul their marriages and the repercussions were highlighted by Jahangir, who also took on such cases (i.e. the case of Saima Waheed);[14][15] "Hundreds have already been arrested. This is simply going to open up the floodgates for the harassment of women and girls by their families and the authorities. The courts have sanctioned their oppression. Thousands more are bound to be affected by this."[16]

Jahangir has demanded that the government of Parvez Musharraf work to improve the record of human rights domestically. Citing examples of human rights abuses, she wrote, "A Hindu income tax inspector gets lynched in the presence of the army personnel for allegedly having made a remark on the beard of a trader. Promptly, the unfortunate Hindu government servant is booked for having committed blasphemy, while the traders and the Lashkar-e-Taiba activists were offered tea over parleys. A seventy-year-old Mukhtaran Bibi and her pregnant daughter Samina are languishing in Sheikhupura jail on trumped-up charges of blasphemy.[17]

She is also an active opponent of child labour and capital punishment: "It would be hypocrisy to defend laws I don't believe in, like capital punishment, the blasphemy law and laws against women and in favor of child labor."[10]

Asma Jahangir served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions from 1998 to 2004, and as the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief from 2004 to 2010.[18]

In her capacity as a UN official, Jahangir was in Pakistan, when Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in 2007. In November 2006, she participated the international meeting for The Yogyakarta Principles as one of 29 experts. On 5 November 2007, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour indicated that Jahangir was among the judicial and political officials detained by the Musharraf government.[19]

House arrest[edit]

On 5 November 2007, The Economist reported that "Over 500 lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists have been arrested. They include Asma Jahangir, boss of the country's human-rights commission and a former UN special rapporteur. In an e-mail from her house arrest, where she has been placed for 90 days, Ms Jahangir regretted that General Musharraf had "lost his marbles".[20][21][22]


In addition to many publications, Jahangir has authored two books: Divine Sanction? The Hudood Ordinance (1988, 2003) and Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan (1992).[23]

One of her major publications is titled "Whither are We!" and was published in Dawn, on 2 October 2000.[24]


Jahangir has received numerous threats over the years due to her activism and human rights work[4][25] and particularly after defending a 14-year-old Christian boy, Salamat Masih, accused of blasphemy[26][27] and ultimately winning the case in 1995,[28] a mob at the High Court smashed Jahangir's car, assaulted her and her driver, threatening her with death.[29] Jahangir and her family have been attacked, taken hostage, had their home broken into and received death threats ever since, but she continues her battle for justice.[10][30][31]

When Jahangir undertook the case of Saima Sarwar in 1999, who was given shelter at Dastak after leaving her husband, wanting a divorce and later gunned down by her family in an act of honour killing, Jahangir received death threats for representing Saima in her divorce proceedings.[32][33][34][35]

In May 2005 Jahangir announced that she would hold a symbolic mixed-gender marathon in Lahore to raise awareness about violence against women. This was following the revelations of cases such as Mukhtar Mai. Tensions boiled over, as Islamist groups and supporters of the political Islamist alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) armed with firearms, batons and Molotov cocktails,[36] violently opposed the race, and Jahangir received especially rough treatment from local police and intelligence agents, who began to strip off her clothes in public. Of this Jahangir said "A lot of people tried to cover my back because I could only feel it I could not see my back. When they were putting me on the police van, they assured that my photograph was taken while my back was bare. This was just to humiliate, this was simply just to humiliate me."[37] A police officer told Jahangir that they had orders to be strict and to tear off the participant's clothes. In addition she along with other participants was also beaten.[38]


In 1995, Jahangir received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders as well as the Ramon Magsaysay Award for "greatness of spirit shown in service of the people".[2]

In 2000, she received the King Baudouin International Development Prize as chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

In 2001 Jahangir and Hina Jilani were awarded the Millennium Peace Prize, by UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women) in collaboration with the non-governmental organisation International Alert.[10]

In 2002 she was awarded the Lisl and Leo Eitinger Prize.[4]

In 2005 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the 1000 Women for Peace project.[39]

On 29 May 2010 at the International Four Freedoms Award 2010 Jahangir received the Freedom of Worship Medal for her Human Rights and Religious Freedom activism, in a ceremony held in the Nieuwe Kerk in Middelburg, Holland.[40]

On 23 March 2010 for services in Human Rights, she was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz, the second highest civilian award of Pakistan.[41]

On 27 October 2010 she won the Supreme Court Bar Association election by defeating her competitor Ahmed Awais and securing 834 of total votes and became the first ever women President of SCBA in the history of Pakistan. .[42]

On 10 December 2010 she was awarded with the 2010 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights, recognising her efforts as a human rights defender.[43][44]

In 2012 she received the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe.[45]

On 13 April 2013, a video surfaced on the social media showing Asma Jehangir receiving "Friends of Liberation War Honour" award by Sheikh Hasina on behalf of her late father. The video created quite an uproar in Pakistan.[46]

On 4 June 2014, she was awarded with the "Stefanus Prize", a Human Rights Prize emphasising the Freedom of Religion or Belief (Article 18 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)[47]

Personal life[edit]

She is married and has a son and two daughters, Munizae Jahangir, a journalist and Sulema Jahangir, who is also a lawyer.[48]


  1. ^ EuropaWorld 9/3/2001
  2. ^ a b The 1995 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service
  3. ^ Leadership profile
  4. ^ a b c Prize winner 2002: Asma Jahangir
  5. ^ Asma Jahangir by Laila Kazmi
  6. ^ Women and Children: The Human Rights Relationship – Asia
  7. ^ Fight Hudood, Protect Women By Beena Sarwar
  8. ^ Swat The System
  9. ^ Dawn – The Reviewer, 2 April 1998, "A ray of hope" by Muneeza Shamsie
  10. ^ a b c d Asma Jahangir
  11. ^ Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani
  12. ^ Democracy is Survival for Women
  13. ^ New York Times, letter to the editor, 23 September 1992. Cited in Amnesty International (1995). "Women in Pakistan: disadvantaged and denied their human rights". .
  14. ^ Book: Muslim women and the politics of participation by Mahnaz Afkhami,Erika Friedl
  15. ^ Police exploiting LHC ruling, apex court told: Delay in Saima case affected 250 couples: Asma
  16. ^ A beacon in Islam's dark age By Yasmin Alibhai-Brown 22 October 1996
  17. ^ Whither are we?
  18. ^ "Asma Jahangir". John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Awards (Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada). 15 March 2012. Retrieved 7 May 2012. 
  19. ^ "UN's top rights official voices alarm at imposition of state of emergency". United Nations. 5 November 2007. Archived from the original on 17 November 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2007. 
  20. ^ "Coup number two". The Economist. 5 November 2007. 
  21. ^ Asma Jahangir: Musharraf has lost his marbles and is targeting progressives
  22. ^ The Real Musharraf
  23. ^ Open Library
  24. ^ Whither are we? by Asma Jahangir
  25. ^ Pakistan: Honour killings of women and girls
  26. ^ Fourteen-year old Pakistani Christian escapes death penalty on appeal: A chronology
  27. ^ Pakistani Christians Under Attack
  28. ^ Statement: Prevention of Discrimination against and Protection of Minorities United Nations Economic and Social Council, 14 July 1998, Retrieved 10 May 2010
  29. ^ Pakistan – Attack on Advocate Asma Jahangir By International Commission of Jurists
  30. ^ Speak Truth to Power Defender
  31. ^ Interview 'Pakistan Should Have Taken The Moral High Ground'
  32. ^ Pakistan: Woman killed for trying to divorce her husband
  33. ^ Center for Women's Global Leadership – Honor Killings Statement
  34. ^ A question of honour
  35. ^ Amnesty International – Pakistan: Government indifference as lawyers defending women’s rights are threatened with death
  36. ^ State of human rights
  37. ^ Indepth Pakistan: Land, Gold and Women Part 1: The case of Shazia Khalid
  38. ^ Lahore mixed-run: Government and Shabab-e-Milli are one: Asma Jahangir
  39. ^ Global Fund for Women
  40. ^ Press release laureates Four Freedoms Awards 2010
  41. ^ List of recipients [sic] of Pakistan Day civil awards
  42. ^ Asma Jahangir wins SCBA elections
  43. ^ [1]
  44. ^ UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights
  45. ^ Council of Europe
  46. ^ Bangladeshi Awards on Liberation War Asma Jahangir, Hamid Mir and Salima Hashmi Under Attack
  47. ^ Stefanus Prize info (Norwegian)
  48. ^ "John Diefenbaker Defender of Human Rights and Freedom Awards". Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. 
  49. ^ Noble Pakistan: 10 Pakistanis honoured with Ramon Magsaysay Award

External links[edit]