Asma Jahangir: A Great (Punjabi) Woman

I had to face imprisonment and house arrests, but it made me tougher. As a lawyer, many a time I took up difficult and sensitive cases dealing with minorities’ and women’s rights. Yes, I constantly receive threats, and to be very honest, at times it is very scary. But I have to continue my work.’

Asma Jahangir is a lawyer (to say the least) defending the rights of women, children and men in Pakistan’s harsh climate of religious extremism, misogyny and child abuse. She does it in the courtroom, on the street, in the media, and on the international scene.

Since 1972, when she launched a case against the Government of the Punjab for the release of her father Malik Ghulam Jilani who was arrested for resigning from the National Assembly to protest the Pakistan Government’s military action in Bangladesh, Asma has been an honorable and courageous leader of Pakistan’s political, legal and social movements. She was one of the leaders of the long and often dangerous campaign waged by women activists against the Hadood Ordinances and the draft law on evidence; She forced the parliament to pass a legislation in favor of bonded child laborers of brick kilns. She is a founding/serving member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Women Action Forum (WAF), Punjab Women Lawyers Association (PWLA), and of the AGHS Legal Aid Cell that offers free legal services to vulnerable population groups.

In 2010, Asma was elected as the first woman President of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. She is a former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and a UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary or Summary Executions from 1998 to 2004, and UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief from 2004 to 2010.

She is the author of Divine Sanction? The Hadood Ordinance (1988) and Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan (1992). She has received numerous international and national awards including honorary Doctor of Law degrees from universities in Switzerland, Canada, and the USA; the Right Livelihood Award or the ‘alternative Nobel prize’ in 2014; American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award in 1992; the Martin Ennals Award, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, and Sitara-I-Imtiaz in 1995.

Asma was placed under house arrest and later imprisoned for participating in the movement for the restoration of democracy against the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq in 1983. She, and her family, has often been a target of vandalism, violent attacks, hate campaigns and character assassinations carried out by militant groups, political interests and their media representatives. Un-deterred, she continues to be a force to reckon with for each successive government, and for the interest groups who violate the rights of people.

More on Asma is here

Contact Asma Jahangir

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Great Women of Punjabi Origin

Years of unceasing democratic work against armed and unarmed adversaries, and in over four decades of active politics, Asma has refused to serve the interests of any colonial, hegemonic or familial power. At all times, she has taken a firm stand on the side of the people, often being victimized, and she has gone onto extend protection to them wherever and whenever possible. The local and international power brokers have introduced their own heroes who come backed with enormous resources and a wide international network of organizations, forums and media outlets. As is the nature of colonizing mind, they make it appear as if Pakistani women had no history of resistance prior to their presentation of it.

May be all this money, resources and influence will for some time sideline our real heroes such as Asma Jahangir, Hina Jillani, Hussain Naqi, Abdur Sattar Edhi and others. But sooner or later we will see through these schemes, and we will be able to acknowledge the ceaseless contributions to the betterment of our lives of our heroes like Asma Jahangir, and we will find deserving ways to nurture and honor them.

Fauzia Rafique

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Abolish Pakistan’s Shariat Courts and Repeal Blasphemy Laws

The demand to abolish Shariat Courts and to repeal/amend Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan is coming into shape as religious right attempts to take back the few gains made in the past years by the democratic forces in Pakistan.

In the past week, the religious right made two moves: one, to wipe out Women Protection Act 2006, and the other to ‘blasphemise’ MNA Sherry Rehman for her bill to repeal/amend the bloody Blasphemy Laws. The Women Protection Act of 2006 is a small but important gain to provide minimal protection to women charged for adultery/rape and other forms of sexual abuse under the discriminatory Hudood Ordinances of 1979. As well, the right also lodged a legal challenge against MNA Sherry Rehman for her bill to repeal the Blasphemy Laws, and opposed another bill for the repeal of Blasphemy Laws tendered by MNA Bushra Gohar.

This confrontation between the religious right and Pakistan’s democratic forces is inevitable yet a grave prospect. It is grave because Pakistan’s religious right is fully armed in each province, and for years, employs violence to acquire political agreement. On the other hand, the democratic elements represented by the ‘civil society’ have prided themselves on waging fair and non-violent struggles through peaceful and legal means.

Pakistan’s ‘civil society’ will need all of our support against the violent, unjust and extra-legal tactics and policies of religion-based formations that are spoiling to gain supremacy in Pakistan.

Uddari Weblog supports the following statement made yesterday by Insani Huqooq Itehaad (IHI):

‘We, the members of civil society, express our serious reservations about the Federal Shariat Court’s attempt to revert the Women’s Protection Act’s Clause 11, 25, 28 and 29 back to Hudood Ordinances. Another alarming aspect of the FSC judgment is its attempt to expand its jurisdiction and undermine constitutional jurisdiction of High Courts and the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

‘We demand from the government to immediately file a petition against this Declaration. We also demand that the Parliament immediately initiate legislative measures to not only repeal all discriminatory laws against women and religious minorities (such as Blasphemy Laws, Hudood Ordinances, Qisas & Diyat and all clauses under Sections 298 of PPC that single out and persecute a religious minority) but also to abolish all parallel judicial systems.

‘We would like to state that women’s and human rights groups struggled for more than twenty-seven years against the controversial Hudood Ordinances. A plethora of evidence was gathered through research to show the anti-women nature of Hudood Ordinances and their massive misuse particularly Zina Ordinance. Thousands of women languished in jails for years under Zina Ordinance. The acquittal rate of women charged under this law — over ninety percent – indicates the mala fide and false nature of most of the charges against them.

‘In response to the consistent demand for the repeal of Hudood Ordinances, Parliament finally introduced the Women’s Protection Act in 2006 to redress the violation of women’s rights under these laws. The recent study of National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) has shown that Women’s Protection Act has brought tremendous relief to women’s lives. Currently there’s hardly any woman who is in prison under the Hudood Ordinance.

‘We regret that Federal Shariat Court has attempted to reverse the gains made by Women’s Protection Act. We believe that the institution of Council of Islamic Ideology and parallel judicial structure of Federal Shariat & Appellate Shariat Courts was part the military dictator Zia-ul-Haq’s political agenda to use religion to legitimize his own dictatorial rule. It is regrettable that despite the consistent demand from civil society organizations and women’s and human rights movements for the repeal of all forms of parallel judicial system, successive civil governments failed to take any concrete action in this regard. We strongly demand that all citizens of this country should be treated as equal, under one law and one judicial system.

‘In view of the history of Federal Shariat Court giving anti-women decisions and blocking the protective legislation for women and religious minorities, we demand that the government should immediately challenge the decision of Federal Shariat Court in the Supreme Court of Pakistan and abolish Federal Shariat Court and parallel legal systems. We also demand that the Constitutional Reform Committee of the Parliament and Supreme Court look into the serious constitutional implications of the FSC verdict.

‘We express our resolve to frustrate all attempts to reverse the gains of Women’s Protection Act. We hereby announce the launch of a nationwide movement to dismantle all parallel judicial systems in Pakistan. We call upon all the democratic and progressive forces in the country to join the citizens’ movement to safeguard the rights of people of Pakistan and to preserve the vision of Quaid-e-Azam’s Pakistan in which the state would not use religion to run its business.’
Organizations & Alliances:
1. Insani Haqooq Ittehad
2. Women Action Forum
3. Aurat Foundation
4. Rozan
5. Pattan
6. Sangi
9. Idara-e-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA)
10. CPDI
12. Shirkat Gah
13. The Researchers
14. Sanjan Nagar Public Education Trust (SNPET)
15. Pakistan Coalition for Education (PCE)
16. National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
Human Rights Activists:
Farzana Bari, Naeem Mirza, Marvi Sirmed, Beena Sarwar, Peter Jacob, Harris Khalique, Salima Hashmi, Khawar Mumtaz, Karamat Ali, Fauzia Yazdani, Sirmed Manzoor, Babar Ayaz

Pakistan’s Women Protection Bill 2006 Snared by Shariat Court

The Women Protection Bill of 2006 that assured at least a minimal protection to women charged under the infamous Hudood Ordinances, has been deemed ‘repugnant to Islam’ by the Federal Shariat Court (FSC).

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
PAKISTAN: Sharia Court Launches Major Challenge to Protection of Women Act
AHRC-STM-268-2010, December 23, 2010.

On 22 December 2010, after three years and four petitions, the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) of Pakistan declared several critical clauses of the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act of 2006 unconstitutional. In place of this act that created protections for women, the FSC supports the reinstatement of the Hudood Ordinances VII of 1979, which were used to discriminate against, falsely convict and imprison, and otherwise destroy the lives of hundreds of women.

Although the FSC does not have the power to make or change law, Article 203DD of the Constitution does give the FSC to rule any law which is “repugnant” to Islam based on the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The dangerous, potentially destabilising implications will not be legal but rather primarily social and political, as the FSC declaration will incite Islamic fundamentalists and their supporters to suppress the rights of women for fair trial which they have achieved after a long history of struggle.

The petitioners sought to diminish the Protection of Women Act and reinstate provisions of the Hudood Ordinances concerning the kidnapping, abduction, or forced induction of women for purposes of marriage; kidnapping and abduction to submit the victim to “unnatural lust”; the selling or buying of a person for prostitution; cohabitation under false pretences, such as claims of lawful marriage; and enticing or kidnapping a woman with criminal intent.

The FSC has claimed that elements of the Protection of Women Act are not consistent with Islam and thus violate Article 203DD because they conflict with the FSC’s support of the Hudood Ordinances. The sections in question, 11, 25, and 28, are those pertaining to zina (adultery, rape) and qazf (enforcement of hadd). The FSC advocates the restoration of provisions of Hudood that require women who have been raped to produce four witnesses to support her testimony—and the reestablishment of the right of police to arrest women on a charge of adultery on the basis of their report of rape.

The court also held that sections 48 and 49 of the Control of Narcotics Substances Act of 1997 and portions of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 fall under the Hudood Ordinances and should not give judicial powers to the high court instead of deferring to the FSC. The court would attempt to extent the term “Hudood” to cover apostasy, human trafficking, war against the state, and the right of retaliation. The FSC stated that the provisions it states are unconstitutional should be eliminated by 22 June 2011.

The FSC does not have the legal authority to overturn these provisions of the Protection of Women Act, the Control of Narcotics Substances Act, or the Anti-Terrorism Act. The former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Qazi Anwer, stated that the FSC does not have the constitutional authority to declare laws unconstitutional. Only the high courts and the Supreme Court have that power. Meanwhile, Parliament is the only body that can make laws or amend the Constitution.

Yet the implications of the FSC declaration will be tremendous for Pakistan. Of most concern is the effect the ruling will have on Islamic fundamentalists and the likelihood of a resurgence of support for the Hudood Ordinances and the repeal of the Women’s Protection Act. Extremists may start campaigns against women’s rights and protections similar to those currently ongoing surrounding blasphemy laws. The possibility that these fundamentalists may be incited to vandalism, violence, and extrajudicial killings is very real.

Beyond civil society, conflict and insecurity could provoke the extra constitutional forces to take action to support this extreme religious group over secular opponents—and invite the involvement of external actors which would prefer an Islamic fundamentalist government in Pakistan. The effect may be the destabilization of the government as well as the erosion of authority and support for democratic and civilian rule.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.