By ZAHEER BABAR
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Asma Jehangir, one of Pakistan’s most prominent right activists and lawyers, died on Sunday of a heart attack in the eastern city of Lahore at the age of 66, her daughter said.
News of Jehangir’s sudden death shook political, social and media circles in Pakistan, as well as government ranks. President Mamnoon Hussain, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and others offered condolences.
Jehangir suffered a heart attack late on Saturday night and was rushed to hospital where she died early on Sunday, her daughter Munizae said.
Born on Jan. 27 in 1952, Jehangir had a prominent career both as a lawyer and rights activist.
She has served as chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and was widely respected for her outspoken criticism of the country’s militant and extreme Islamist groups and unparalleled record as rights activist.
Jehangir also served as president of the Supreme Court’s Bar Association and was a U.N. rapporteur on human right and extrajudicial killings.
She was on Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential women.
“We have lost a human rights giant. She was a tireless advocate for inalienable rights of all people and for equality – whether in her capacity as a Pakistani lawyer in the domestic justice system, as a global civil society activist, or as a Special Rapporteur,” the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement.
“Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind,” he said. “Asma will not be forgotten.”
A fierce defender of democracy, she often criticized Pakistan’s military and intelligence. She defended minority Christians charged with blasphemy, an offense that under Pakistan’s controversial law carries the death penalty.
She was repeatedly threatened by the country’s militant religious right whom she criticized loudly and often.
A champion of human rights, Jehangir 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.
Friends, relatives, activists and journalists thronged to her residence in Lahore to express their grief. Local TV stations broadcast footage showing public figures and Jehangir’s friends sobbing and consoling each other outside her residence as her body was brought home from hospital.
Zohra Yousuf, a former chairwoman 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.
Activist Marvi Sarmad tweeted: “Today it’s not only Pakistan who will cry. The entire South Asia shall mourn Asma Jehangir.”
“‘Speaking truth to power,’ a phrase we often use, Asma Jehangir lived, practiced till her last breath,” said another activist, Raza Ahmed Rumi.
Jehangir is survived by her businessman husband, Tahir Jehangir, a son and two daughters. Her other daughter, Sulema, lives in London. The funeral would take place after Sulema’s return to Pakistan, the family announced.
Associated Press writers Kathy Gannon and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.