Date: June 12, 2012
Pakistan’s human rights activist Asma Jahangir, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, has courageously spoken for religious minorities around the world. Now, her own life is under threat. She revealed at a recent press conference in Lahore that the country’s intelligence agency, Inter Services Intelligence or ISI, had planned and ordered her assassination.
“The threat to Jahangir’s life is being attributed to her public criticism of and cases against Pakistani military’s actions and security establishment, but a lot more is at stake in the plot to assassinate her,” said WEA-RLC Executive Director the Rev. Godfrey Yogarajah.
State and non-state actors in Pakistan have sought to silence the voice for democracy and civil rights in the country by assassinating advocates. Such threats and actions create an atmosphere of fear for those who believe in moderation and individual rights.
Jahangir has also said, “This is not on a matter of my safety but a much larger issue – individual’s right to raise their voice,” as quoted by The Express Tribune.
Just last year, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Pakistan’s first Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti were killed. Both had received death threats for speaking against the country’s notorious blasphemy laws, and yet the government didn’t protect them wholeheartedly.
The threat to the life of Jahangir, who co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and is president of bar, “should be taken even more seriously given that state actors are allegedly behind it,” Yogarajah said.
Since 1977, when General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq captured power by a coup and Islamized the country, there have been sustained efforts to take Pakistan away from the vision of the country’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah to create a nation where rule of law prevails and religious minorities are protected.
Jahangir, who is helping the country to return to its foundational principles, is no stranger to threats. She defended an underage Christian boy, Salamat Masih, who was accused of blasphemy, and won the case in 1995. Extremist forces attacked her car and assaulted her outside the High Court. She has also been taken hostage, had her home broken into, and received death threats for fighting for justice.
WEA-RLC urges the government of Pakistan to form a judicial commission to investigate the threat to Jahangir’s life and give her the highest level of security, Yogarajah said.