In the 1980s, the Ziaul Haq-appointed Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) passed a resolution claiming that Asma Jahangir had blasphemed and she should be sentenced to death. However, she was found not guilty of blasphemy. But it was Salamat Masih, a 14-year-old Christian boy, accused of blasphemy, whom Asma defended at the High Court and winning the case in 1995. As a consequence, a mob at the High Court smashed Asma’s car, assaulted her and threatened her with death.
In 2005, when she announced to hold a symbolic mixed-gender marathon in Lahore to raise awareness about violence against women, Islamist groups and Muttahida Majlis-e-Aamal (MMA) armed with firearms and batons violently opposed the race. Asma was beaten and the local police and intelligence agents began to strip off her clothes in public. A lot of people tried to cover her back but the intelligence agents people made sure that a photograph was taken while her back was bare This was just to humiliate her.
However, despite the fact that she is the favourite target of “powers that be”, is often branded as an Indian or American agent and labelled as a traitor, her battle for justice continues. Throughout her career, she has been defending human and women rights, rights of religious minorities and children in Pakistan. She remains a staunch critic of the Hudood Ordinance and blasphemy laws of Pakistan put in place by Gen Ziaul Haq.
Asma Jahangir is a human rights lawyer, a social activist and co-founder of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. 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. The family’s lands were confiscated in 1967 as a result of his outspoken views.
William Dalrymple, writing for The New Yorker, described Jahangir as Pakistan’s “most visible and celebrated — as well as most vilified —human-rights lawyer”, adding that she has “spent her professional life fighting for a secular civil society, challenging the mullahs and generals.
Asma Jahangir has authored two books: ‘Divine Sanction? The Hudood Ordinance (1988, 2003) and ‘Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan’ (1992.)
On Thursday, at Meet the Press Programme of the National Press Club Asma observed the following:
The law on freedom of expression allowed individuals to speak against politicians and their family members but did not permit criticism of the army or any other country. “If the army gets itself involved in politics, fingers will be raised. We will continue to stand against their weapons with pens in our hands and we will not stop raising our voice for the rights of people”. Recalling that the defence budget could not be discussed in parliament, Asma noted that the armed forces should stop taking taxpayers’ money if they were unwilling to disclose this information.
Talking about the recently announced judgment on Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification, she called for the right of appeal to be given in cases of fundamental rights i.e. those heard under Article 184(3) of the Constitution. As whenever the Supreme Court takes suo motu notice and announces a decision, the aggrieved party loses the chance to appeal and can only file a review application. Parliament should amend the law to give the right of appeal,” she suggested.
She said that the judiciary gave decisions against politicians, but it had never shown the courage to deliver a verdict against the military.
“After the JIT report, it was claimed that the PML-N was a ‘Sicilian mafia’, but unfortunately the courts have never given a decision against the real mafia; they don’t even rule against the land mafia,” she said. Advising Nawaz Sharif to seek relief from the people, she recommended that the ousted prime minister should come out onto the streets and hold public meetings in Gawalmandi, The Mall and GT Road.
Later, answering journalists’ questions, she said that the court had no right to hear the case against Nawaz Sharif under Article 184(3) and should have refused to entertain it.
She also said that Pakistan should start trading with neighbouring countries, rather than relying on smuggling which, she claimed, was allowed to continue because its proceeds were pocketed by certain elements.
She was of the opinion that Pakistan could not obtain Kashmir through war and urged the country to initiate a dialogue and engage India on different issues before finally going for a solution to the Kashmir dispute.