Fate of five death row prisoner hangs in balance as nation bids farewell to Asma

ISLAMABAD: As the nation bid farewell to Asma Jahangir, hopes of many awaiting justice will be buried alongside the human rights lawyer.

The human rights lawyer, known to stand by the underdogs and assuming cases free of cost, was the petitioner counsel in five cases challenging capital punishment handed out by military courts. The fate of whom now hangs in balance.

Asma was a death penalty opponent on principle, she always raised voice for democracy and civilian supremacy.

The review petitions filed by Asma were scheduled to be taken up by a three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on February 15.

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However, Advocate Chaudhry Akhtar Ali, who has been filing cases on her behalf in the Supreme Court for last four decades, has moved an application to the SC, requesting to adjourn the case the petitioners’ counsel has passed away.

Speaking to The Express Tribune, Akhtar revealed that Asma was arguing their case without charging fees. “She contested almost half of her cases without charging a single penny, but very few know this aspect of her career because she never wanted to publicise her efforts for needy and deserving clients.”

He added that the human rights champion had challenged military courts orders on different grounds.

Unlike many others, Asma was unafraid of going against the tide of popular sentiment although she largely avoided ‘traditional’ high profile cases.

According to Akhtar, Asma had filed dozens of missing persons cases in the recent past and did not charge anything for them. “We were under instruction that if the families of enforced disappearance victims cannot pay our (AOR) fees, then she will cover the cost,” Akhtar further revealed.

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“We referred a number of poor litigants to her. She was not only willing to argue their cases but also made arrangements to house them,” he added.

In a country “where people think twice before speaking for marginalised groups, and often they don’t speak out at all, she risked her life and liberty and that of those near and dear to her to speak out for victims of domestic violence, religious persecution, political oppression and draconian laws. And it was never for personal gain,” top jurist Makhdoom Ali Khan, who had known Jahangir since 1983, told The Express Tribune. “Always to keep the flame of liberty burning and further the cause of freedom.”

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