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Rights groups want protection for Asma Jahangir

07 June, 2012

GENEVA: Major human rights groups called on Pakistan on Wednesday to protect prominent lawyer Asma Jahangir and investigate allegations that the military and intelligence agencies have plotted to kill her.

Asma, who has pursued human rights cases at home and abroad for more than 30 years, told a TV channel on Monday that she had learned from a credible source about a planned assassination attempt by the highest levels of the security establishment.

There was no immediate comment from security officials.

"Pakistani authorities should urgently and thoroughly investigate the alleged plot against Asma Jahangir and hold all those responsible to account, regardless of position or rank," Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, on an official visit to Pakistan, visited Asma in her home in Lahore on Wednesday "to discuss this alarming development and show her support", her office said.

"We have just now discussed it with the prime minister," Pillay's spokesman Rupert Colville told Reuters by email on Wednesday following Pillay's talks with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in Islamabad.

"The federal government is also providing her with extra security," Colville said.

HRW and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said Asma had been a critic of the military's policies in the insurgency-hit province of Balochistan and its alleged violations there, including killings, forced disappearances and torture.

"Asma Jahangir has fought tirelessly as a member of the legal profession to protect human rights in Pakistan and around the world, at considerable peril to herself," Wilder Tayler, ICJ's secretary general, said in a statement. "So when she speaks publicly of a credible threat, the government of Pakistan should take it very seriously and ensure that she is protected," he said.

Asma, the founder of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the first woman to lead the Supreme Court Bar Association, received repeated threats for raising the issue of corruption in the legal arena, HRW said.

She served as UN special investigator on extra-judicial executions and later as UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief during 1998 to 2010, reporting on violations worldwide to the UN Human Rights Council.

In recent months, Asma has "been at odds with the Pakistani military in a series of high profile stand-offs", HRW said.

She has defended former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, accused of drafting a memo that accused the army of plotting a coup. He has denied the charge.

"As defence lawyer in the 'memogate' affair, Jahangir raised serious reservations about lack of due process in legal proceedings against Haqqani and threats to his life from the military Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)," HRW said.


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