Pakistan bid farewell to top rights advocate Asma Jahangir on Tuesday, with thousands cramming into a major cricket ground under tight security to grieve the woman described by many as the country’s “moral compass.”
Lawyers dressed in black blazers, leading politicians, intellectuals and activists joined citizens flooding Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, where camera drones flew overhead as mourners accompanied the body with flowers and wreaths.
“Asma’s death has created a wide gap that looks to be never filled,” one attendee, college teacher Said Raheem Ul Haque, told AFP as the service began.
Jahangir, who died of cardiac arrest on Sunday aged 66, was a lawyer who co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and also served as United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran. She was widely admired in the international humanitarian community and was seen as a champion of the downtrodden in Pakistan, which has a troubled rights record, especially for minorities.
Her death has sparked an outpouring of tributes from global human rights groups and political leaders, including the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres—who called her a “human rights giant”—and Pakistan’s Nobel prize winner Malala Yousafzai.
Newspaper front pages have been dominated by accolades to “Asma the fearless,” while social media has seen a tsunami of acclamations, with many questioning what Pakistan will do without her.
Jahangir faced death threats, beatings and imprisonment to win landmark human rights cases while standing up to dictators. The rights commission which she helped create made its name defending religious minorities and tackling highly charged blasphemy accusations along with cases of “honor” killings—in which victims, normally women, are murdered by a relative for bringing shame on the family.
Jahangir secured a number of victories during her life, from winning freedom for bonded laborers from their “owners” through pioneering litigation, to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own volition. She was also an outspoken critic of the military establishment, including during her stint as the first-ever female leader of Pakistan’s top bar association.