ASMA JAHANGIR (1951- ) Asma Jahangir-also known by her maiden name, Asma Jilani-has played a significant role in promoting human rights in Pakistan She has concentrated in particular on the rights of women and minorities, thereby inviting the wrath of conservative and religious forces in the country In 1986, she founded a non-governmental organization, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), for documenting and thus making people aware of “the rampant mistreatment and exploitation of women, children, minorities, and laborers by religious zealots” She was the Commission’s first secretary-general In 1995, Asma Jahangir came to the attention of the international human rights community for taking up the cause of two Pakistani Christians who had been sentenced to death under the “blasphemy laws” Although her role in this case drew a great deal of hostile criticism from religious elements, including death threats, it did, however, bring her international fame and recognition In July, she was chosen to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award for public service She was cited for “challenging Pakistan to embrace and uphold the principles of religious tolerance, gender equality, and equal protection under the law” In December 1997, when the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) put forward Muhammad Rafiq Tarar as its candidate for president, Asma Jahangir joined the chorus of voices raised in protest at the party’s choice She opposed Tarar because of his poor record in human rights, while he was a magistrate and later a judge of the High and Supreme Courts

The opposition of human rights activists did not prevent Tarar from being elected president Jahangir continued to work in the human rights area after the military takeover of October 1999 She was actively involved in bringing to international attention the case of Mukhtaran Bibi, a woman ordered to be raped in a village in Punjab following a verdict given by a tribal council

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