Asma Jahangir becomes first female SCBA president; once again Pakistani liberals defeated the right wingers

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Congratulations, Asma Jahangir won the SCBA elections – by pejamistri

Asma Jahangir’s victory is a loss for Jang Group’s yellow journalism – by Ahmed Iqbalabadi

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani felicitated Asma Jahangir on her election as the SCBA president. President Zardari said the legal fraternity and lawyers’ community had reposed confidence in Asma and acknowledged her abilities as a great lawyer and fearless leader. The PM said, “Your election as the SCBA president is reflective of the lawyers’ confidence in your leadership.”

Congratulation Asma Jahanger for your landmark victory! It is recognition for supremacy of parliament, pro people democracy, constitutionalism and rule of law in Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir’s election as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association is a success for liberal democratic forces in the country-and is a loss for yellow journalists, judicial dictatorship loyalists and especially all those saints, who were availing the perks and benefits after taking oath twice under PCO in 1999 and 2002 and now have become saints and champion of judiciary, were allotted plots in Islamabad worth millions of rupees by during the last two years.

After a neck and neck contest for the slot of President of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), Asma Jahangir, a former chairperson of HRCP, defeated Ahmed Awais, a member of the so-called champion of lawyers’ movement, the Hamid Khan group, a senior leader of the  Pakistan Tehrik Insaf; the most Taliban apologist party in Punjab.

Asma Jahangir has won despite shameful , false, and poisonous propaganda on sectarian grounds throughout the campaign by right wing media and especially pro Imran and pro establishment columnists, writers and anchors. Even she was being targeted by a hate campaign that calls her an Ahmedi, pro-American and pro-Indian.

The News’ exclusive investigative reports and some ‘Jang’ oped targeted Asma with baseless allegations. Haroon Rasheed,  wrote in his column, published in Daily ‘Jang’ that Asma told a young journalist that he shouldn’t take the name of Allah and Prophet in the print and elctronic media, he also wrote in his column few months ago that Imran Khan gave him a personal diary of a British judge in which it was mentioned that Asma has been given the task of eliminating Islam from Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir represents modern, progressive and forward-looking sections of Pakistani society across the globe. She has spent most of her career defending the rights of women, religious minorities, and children of Pakistan. Aided in her mission by fellow activists and colleagues from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, she has continued her battle for justice amidst constant threats to her safety. Her willingness to relentlessly defend victims of rape, women seeking divorce from abusive husbands, people accused of blasphemy, her work on the issues of child labor, and her continuous criticism of conservative  thoughts,  religious politics and military regimes has made her one of the most respected figures in Pakistan. She has served as the chairperson of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission. In 1998, she was appointed Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Asma learned the business of law and politics at an early age. Her father spent much of his life in and out of prison for his political views which included open criticism of actions of Pakistani military in Bangladesh. Asma was eighteen when she filed her first petition to have her father released from jail and started working with lawyers on his defense.

In 1980, Asma Jahangir and her sister, Hina Jilani, got together with few fellow activists and lawyers and formed the first law firm established by women in Pakistan. They also helped form the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in the same year. The first WAF demonstration was in 1983 when some 25-50 women took to the streets protesting the famous Safia Bibi case. Safia, a young blind girl, had been raped yet had ended up in jail on the charge of zina. “We (their law firm) had been given a lot of cases by the advocate general and the moment this demonstration came to light, the cases were taken away from us.” Asma recalls. (Dawn-The Reviewer, April 2, 1998, “A ray of hope”)

Asma has been a staunch critic of the Hudood ordinance and blasphemy laws of Pakistan. These laws were introduced in the Pakistani constitution during the 10-year dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq. According to the of the Hudood ordinance, a person accused of adultery or zina can be sentenced to death and according to the blasphemy law, a person accused of speaking or acting against Islam can also be sentenced to death. Whatever the initial intents of these laws might have been, the result has been false imprisonment of hundreds of innocent men and women. Women who dare to report a rape are often accused of zina and locked up in prison while their offenders walk free and are never questioned or brought to justice. The blasphemy law has also resulted in false imprisonment and even death of many Pakistani Christians, Hindus, and even some Muslims.

In her article for Dawn, published October 2, 2000, titled “Whither are We!” Asma demands that the government of General Musharraf work to improve the record of human rights domestically. Citing examples of human rights abuses, she wrote, “A Hindu income tax inspector gets lynched in the presence of the army personnel for allegedly having made a remark on the beard of a trader. Promptly, the unfortunate Hindu government servant is booked for having committed blasphemy, while the traders and the Lashkar-e-Tayaba activists were offered tea over parleys. A seventy-year-old Mukhtaran Bibi and her pregnant daughter Samina are languishing in Sheikhupura jail on trumped-up charges of blasphemy.”

In 1995, Asma Jahangir received numerous death threats for her defense of Salamat Masih, a fourteen-year old Christian boy sentenced to death for allegedly writing blasphemous words against Islam on the wall of a mosque. In 1999, Asma and her sister, Hina Jilani, a fellow lawyer and activist, were again subject to death threats after representing Samia Sawar, a 32 year old women who was seeking divorce from her abusive husband.  Asma believes,“Democracy is Survival for Women and  Minorities ”.

Asma Jahangir, after her victory, said that she had defeated the elements who, in the name of rule of law, were trying to fulfill their vested interests, adding that all institutions should perform within their limits. She said the bar would criticize the government whenever it would do something wrong and the judiciary would also face the same criticism in case it passed a controversial judgement. She said she would invite all former presidents of the bar to devise a future strategy.

We liberals are expecting or it seems like,  Asma group wining the SCBA election is indicating change of Bar attitude and policy towards parliament and civilian elected government. And [hopefully] Bench will also review it’s attitude and approach towards elected  representatives.  Here is article written by Muhammad Akram, indicating some positive signs.

Human rights icon elected to champion constitutional rights

By Muhammad Akram

Asma Jahangir’s election as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association is a success for liberal democratic forces in the country and is bound to strengthen the human rights movement in the country, which she is spearheading as an undisputed icon.

Asma Jahangir represents modern, progressive and forward-looking sections of Pakistani society across the globe. Her election to the office is bound to bring about a sea change in Pakistan’s perception around the world, as a state of strife struggling to counter the menace of Talibanisation of society.

The verdict by the lawyers’ community is itself an expression of not succumbing any longer to the hangover of lawyers’ movement that helped restores the sacked judiciary headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry. Asma Jahangir has defeated, though with a narrow margin of 35 votes, the so-called champion of lawyers’ movement, the Hamid Khan group, despite the fact that she was known for her critical views of numerous judgments by the “independent” yet pro-active judiciary. The verdict by the top lawyers of the country is reflective of the suppressed expression on the conduct of the bar and bench vis-à-vis the nascent democracy struggling to get rooted against a barrage of suo motu notices on issues that need to be purely addressed by the executive.

But what appears to be more important is the defeat of a mindset that is largely been viewed as the real beneficiary of the restoration of the deposed judiciary in monetary terms. This mindset had been held responsible for the boycott of the 2008 general elections by the legal fraternity, by none other than Aitzaz Ahsan, the former SCBA president and the man who anchored the lawyers’ movement with the help of stalwarts like Asma.

Aitzaz Ahsan was out of the SCBA election run this time and sided with Asma’s rival camp, the Hamid Khan group. He appeared to have lost many friends in the bar politics like he did in his party, the PPP.

The sane voices, including those of Fakharuddin G Ibrahim, Justice (r) Tariq Mahmood and Ali Ahmed Kurd, stayed steadfast in her support and refused to budge to the general talks in bar rooms that supporting Asma would amount to a suppressed legal practice.

Will the icon of human rights’ movement succeed in helping the institutions start adhering to the constitution? Also, de-politicising the bar and the bench appears to be the biggest challenge in front of the first female president of the SCBA.

It’s a challenge since her predecessors, particularly the outgoing president Qazi Anwar, had left a legacy that needs to be rubbished since it was aimed at causing infighting between the institutions. Anwar had caused more damage to the SCBA than any of his predecessors, as he pitted the bar against the elected government several times by siding with a judicial decision dubbed as political in nature.

It was generally assumed that Anwar’s slanderous outburst against the elected government, particularly President Zardari, was not just motivated but a result of his hobnobbing with anti-government forces within the state. It was common knowledge that Anwar was found on more than one occasions hearing sympathetically, those who need to judge issues on merit than harming the nascent democracy by making newspaper and TV headlines through slanderous statements against the democratically elected government in general and President Zardari in particular. With Asma in office, hopes have come alive that the bar would restrict its mandated activities and not indulge in politics.

Asma’s statement, after her vistory, that she would continue her struggle for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression would reinvigorate the efforts of those who got dismayed due to the tussle between an elected government and a judiciary restored by the people’s struggle.



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