Asma Jahangir, one of Pakistan’s most prominent human rights activists, has died of a heart attack aged 66.
She was rushed to hospital in Lahore on Saturday night and died the following day, her daughter Muneeze Jahangir said.
Friends, relatives, activists and journalists thronged to her residence in Lahore to express their grief. Local TV stations broadcast footage showing public figures and Jahangir’s friends sobbing and consoling each other outside her residence as her body was brought home from hospital.
The prime minister of Pakistan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, lauded her “immense contributions towards upholding rule of law, democracy and safeguarding human rights”.
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Jahangir was the chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and respected for her outspoken criticism of the country’s militant Islamist groups and her record as an activist.
She was also the president of the supreme court bar association and had served as the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran since 2016.
Jahangir, a fierce defender of democracy who also regularly raised concerns about Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential women.
She defended minority Christians charged with blasphemy, an offence that under Pakistan’s controversial law carries the death penalty.
She was repeatedly threatened by the country’s militant religious right whom she criticised loudly and often.
She was also placed under house arrest in 2007 for her part in a lawyers’ protest movement that helped lead to the military leader Pervez Musharraf stepping down from power.
A champion of human rights, Jahangir was unafraid to speak loudly against those attacking minority religions and women. She won scores of international awards. Several years ago, she briefly sent her family out of the country following threats from militant groups.
Zohra Yousuf, a former chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said she lost a “great friend and great warrior of human rights.”
“No one can replace Asma … She was unmatched and unparalleled, we suffered a great loss today,” Yousuf said.
The activist Marvi Sarmad tweeted: “Today it’s not only Pakistan who will cry. The entire South Asia shall mourn Asma Jahangir.”
“’Speaking truth to power,’ a phrase we often use, Asma Jahangir lived, practiced till her last breath,” said another activist, Raza Ahmed Rumi.
Jahangir is survived by her husband, the businessman Tahir Jahangir, a son and two daughters. Her other daughter, Salima, lives in London. The funeral would take place after Salima’s return to Pakistan, the family announced.