Pakistan has lost an iconic human rights defender and a brave voice. There can be no two opinions about it. The usual rhetoric on such occasion is to say he or she has left a vacuum hard to fill, but on this occasional this is literally true. The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, rightly mirrored global sentiments by saying: “We have lost a human rights giant … Asma was brilliant, deeply principled, courageous and kind …” He is not wrong too in saying “Asma will not be forgotten.”
I met her on a number of occasions over the last decade or so as a journalist. She always carried an awesome aura around her – a fearless person who knows what she is talking about. The last time I met her to seek her opinion about a case she was pleading which no one else dares to take up. This was her strength; she used to take up cases against the most powerful in this country without any fear. She used to speak out against the most powerful institutions such as the military and the judiciary. In her last tweet of her life, she talked about the ruling party Senator Nehal Hashmi’s case and explained that “tone and words cannot be defended but use of contempt law selectively only undermines confidence in the system of justice.”
Many believe she got her forte from her family background, her experience as a senior lawyer, her overall stature but also her global recognition. I believe her international support kept the powerful in Pakistan from harming her in any way. Had she not been an international personality, she would have been relatively easier pill to swallow. Asma had become a symbol of state’s accountability. She was roughed up on numerous occasions by law enforcement agencies but this was the most they could do to her. Her voice for getting the deprived their rights and for cleansing politics of military interventions was the most brave and independent. She was the kind of rebellious person you can’t buy or budge through force. She was an inspiration.
Today, a large number of people are both very sad and concerned. The brave voice has gone with her difficult mission half realized. The real question is who will take the beacon from here onwards?
The author is journalist. He tweets @TheHaroonRashid
Freedom Network is a Pakistan-based media and development sector watchdog wih core values as is to protect freedom of expression, including freedom of the press and Internet, and access to information and promote an informed society that sees media as a key partner in a democratic and pluralist Pakistan.