Death threats against prominent Pakistani human rights defender
"They have done everything to intimidate me...
They have even turned on my two young daughters...
I have had to send them out of the country.
Sometimes you have to pay such an unbearable price for what you believe in."
According to the information, members of the Peshawar Chamber of Commerce in Pakistan and a section of religious groups have demanded that she be arrested and hanged, claiming that she "takes the small problems of Pakistan to international forums and creates a bad name for Pakistan." Furthermore, they also argue that she encourages women and girls to rebel against their families. These groups have warned that if the government of Pakistan does not take action, they will kill her themselves. Moreover, it is alleged that they have announced a monetary reward for anyone taking her life.
Asma Jahangir is at the forefront of human rights work in Pakistan and in addition to her work for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (an affiliate of FIDH), she is UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. She also runs a shelter for women, " Dastak " headed by her sister Ms. Hina Jillani. In 1981 Asma Jahangir, her sister Hina Jilani, and two other lawyers founded the first all-female law firm in Pakistan, called AGHS (the first letter of each of their names). In 1987 the law firm was registered as a non-governmental organization (NGO) and it created a Women’s Legal Aid Cell to handle, among other things, the legal needs of Pakistani women seeking to divorce their abusive husbands. Asma Jahangir is also serving her sixth year as the Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent human rights NGO that has, among other things, been instrumental in combating the serious problem of bonded labor in Pakistan. Since August 1998,. Asma Jahangir is currently attending the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, where she presented her first report as UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. The Observatory is gravely concerned about the safety of Ms. Asma Jahangir when she returns to Pakistan because of this threat and the fact that she has previously been the victim of other such threats.
It is believed that it was her involvement, as a lawyer, in the case of the murder of Ms. Saima Sarwar (one of the phenomenon of " honour killings " - killings carried out by the family of the victim to protect the honour of the family that has brought events to a head. On March 26, 1999 Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, human rights lawyers who were assisting a woman, Samia Sarwar, to obtain a divorce from her abusive husband. During a meeting in the lawyers’ offices, a gunman accompanying Ms. Sarwar’s family shot Ms. Sarwar to death. Several religious groups and members of the Peshawar Chamber of Commerce, including Ms. Sarwar’s father, have issued public death threats against Ms. Jahangir and Ms. Jilani because of their representation of Ms Sarwar. The Pakistani authorities have not arrested the family members responsible for the murder, nor taken any action against those responsible for the threats.
This is not the first time that the lives of Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani have been threatened. For example, in 1996 religious extremists targeted the two lawyers, who were then acting in defense of Saima Waheed, a woman who had married against the wishes of her influential family, by entering their home and holding their family at gunpoint while causing destruction to the house. The two women have been under government-sponsored twenty-four-hour surveillance since that time, however, the government has not sought to prosecute those who regularly issue threats against the women nor is it doing so in relation to this case.
Please write politely worded letters to the Pakistani authorities listed below, urging the government to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who are responsible for the murder of Samia Sarwar and the death threats against Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani. Furthermore you should request that the government ensure that Asma Jahangir, Hina Jilani, and any other persons subject to threats in relation to this case are provided with adequate protection until those threats subside. You should emphasize the government’s duty under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers to create an environment in which lawyers and activists are permitted to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms guaranteed by international law.
Please send copies of your letters, not noted on the original, to Vittoria Fariello at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. If you are writing after May 30, or if you require further information, please contact Ms. Fariello at (212) 845-5298.
Action Requested :
Please write to the authorities urging that they :
i take appropriate measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of Ms. Asma Jahangir and those organisations and individuals working with her, including her sister and head of " Dastak " Ms. Hina Jillani ;
ii. ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9 1998 (Declaration concerning the rights and responsibilities of individuals, groups and institutions to promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental liberties ) in particular its Article 1 which provides that " Every person has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental liberties at the national and international level. "
iii. guarantee the effective respect of fundamental human rights and freedoms in accordance with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the universal and regional Pacts and Covenants ratified by Pakistan.
Mohammed Mawaz Sharif
Prime Minister of Pakistan
Prime Minister’s Secretariat
Fax : + 92 51 920 889 /92 1545
Chaudhary Shujat Hussain
Pakistan Permanent Mission
to the United Nations
Fax : 0041 22 734 80 85
Please send copies of your letters to representatives of Pakistan in your country, and to your country’s representatives in Pakistan
(Source LCHR, OMCT and Observatory for the protection of Human Rights defenders)