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Pakistani Rights Campaigner Defiant After Assassination Plot Claim

Asma Jahangir, a leading Pakistani lawyer and human rights campaigner
Asma Jahangir, a leading Pakistani lawyer and human rights campaigner
A lawyer who is perhaps Pakistan's most prominent human rights campaigner vows that she's undeterred by an alleged plot to kill her.

Asma Jahangir told RFE/RL that she will continue her campaign against human rights abuses in southwestern Balochistan Province despite apparent links between her activities and the planned assassination attempt.

Jahangir, 60, last week alleged that leaders of Pakistan's powerful security establishment had plotted to eliminate her, adding that she learned about the plan from a highly credible source.

Her claim prompted statements of concern from global rights watchdogs including Human Rights Watch and the office of the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

Jahangir told RFE/RL in a June 12 interview that she has no plans to leave Pakistan but that she has restricted her movements in the eastern city of Lahore, where she lives and works.

She said that the government has provided her with some security and has advised her to lie low for a while.

"I am trying to cope, because at the moment I haven't left the city where I am working and I have started going back to work in the city," Jahangir said. "I am not traveling outside the city, but eventually I have to, because this is not the kind of life I want to lead."

Jahangir said her consistent criticism of Islamabad's policies in the insurgency-wracked southwestern province never went well with military leaders.

She has been calling for an end to abuses in the region, where the military is accused of torture, killings, and enforced disappearances in the course of its battle against Balochi separatists.

Breaking The Silence

Thousands of separatists, soldiers, and civilians have been killed in the ongoing unrest in Balochistan since 2004.

Jahangir said her activism might have been seen as crossing an invisible red line.

"The analysis of people around here is that [this assassination plot] is possibly [the result of] me being very vocal about the situation in Balochistan," Jahangir said.

She said that the military resents a national conference she helped organize late last month. Pakistani politicians, lawyers, journalists, and human rights campaigners unanimously demanded an end to all military operations in Balochistan during that conference.

"This partnership between the civil society and the politicians, on at least those issues of disappearances and torture, and the excessive militarism in Balochistan, was very clearly spelled out" during that conference, Jahangir said.

Hero To Some

Threats are not new to Jahangir. She was shot at by unknown gunmen in late 2005 when she went to Balochistan on a fact-finding mission. She was put under house arrest by the military regime in 2007. Pakistani extremists have even accused her of apostasy, which is considered a capital offense under Pakistani law.

What made Jahangir a household name in Pakistan is her fearless criticism of alleged human rights violations by the military and its role in manipulating national politics. During the last year, she defended Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, after the military reportedly forced him to resign late last year. He was accused of seeking help from senior U.S. military officials to establish civilian control over national security policies in Pakistan.

Jahangir's life-long struggle for human rights in Pakistan has won her international recognition. She served as a United Nations rapporteur on freedom of religion and extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions. As a leader of the human rights movement in Pakistan, she established the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which is held in high esteem for its work.

As a lawyer, she has provided free legal aid to countless abuse victims and has been a prominent voice for establishing the rule of law in Pakistan.
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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