Unflinching Ally Of The Persecuted: How Imaan Mazari Is Keeping Asma Jahangir’s Legacy Alive

Unflinching Ally Of The Persecuted: How Imaan Mazari Is Keeping Asma Jahangir’s Legacy Alive
Human rights lawyer Imaan Hazir-Mazari surprised friends and foes alike when she took on the case of a notorious Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporter who is known for her abusive trolling of PTI's critics on Twitter.

Mariam Malik, known online as 'Mariam's Madness' (her Twitter handle), is among the several PTI trolls who are habitual of abusing PTI's rivals as well as journalists and activists critical of the party. She had repeatedly abused Imaan Mazari and other human rights activists.


A tweet from 2020

After Imran Khan's ouster from power, these members of PTI's social media team began targeting the military as well for its supposed retraction of support to their leader.

Since criticism of the military is an uncharted territory for PTI supporters, many were clueless when faced with FIRs on charges of cyber crime and late-night raids at home -- something activists from ethnic minorities and journalists on the wrong side of the recently-dismantled 'hybrid regime' are used to.

Ironically, these social media warriors who ran smear campaigns and hurled treason allegations at the party's critics during the PTI government are now being accused of treason themselves. The anger of these urban middle and upper middle class folks at the military becoming 'neutral' also reeks of the entitlement not available to Baloch and Pashtun activists protesting state oppression for decades.

'The struggle for civil liberties is bigger than individuals'

When PTI supporter Mariam Malik recently received a notice from Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) accusing her of 'intimidating state institutions', she approached Imaan Mazari, who agreed to defend her against FIA's allegations, despite having been abused by her in the recent past.


"People were confused why I took the case," Imaan Mazari admits, but adds that she saw it as part of her struggle against violation of civil liberties in the country. She however refused to discuss the case, saying that the client did not give her permission to do so.

A video showing journalist Matiullah Jan asking Mariam if she regretted trolling Imaan in the past went viral on social media following the latest hearing of the case. Mariam had no remorse for her past behaviour.


Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah, whom PTI supporters facing action over their social media posts against the military have pinned hopes on, was also repeatedly attacked by the party's troll brigade. A few days before the ouster of Imran Khan, PTI MNA Kanwal Shauzab had accused the judge of bias during hearing of a case, following which pro-PTI accounts began an abusive campaign against him. The party's supporters had termed him biased over his verdicts upholding human rights where he repeatedly censured institutions like the FIA for targeting activists and journalists.

Imaan hopes that the court will put an end to FIA's arbitrary actions against PTI's online activists.

A friend to the Baloch 

Apart from saving online activists from FIA, these days Imaan is also contesting cases against abduction and racial profiling of Baloch students in Islamabad -- who face a significantly severer form of this harassment from state institutions. She actively represents and provides assistance to Baloch students who are racially profiled and harassed on campuses in Islamabad and other cities where they relocate in hopes of securing their future.

On May 11, a Baloch youth who studied at Arid University Rawalpindi, Feroz Baloch, was picked up under mysterious circumstances. Three other Baloch students went missing from Rawalpindi, Lyari (Karachi) and Quetta the same day. The students reached out to Imaan who then filed a complaint on their behalf in the Islamabad High Court against Feroz Baloch's abduction. Human rights lawyers from other cities were also alerted about abductions in their cities.

"Students belonging to ethnic minority groups studying in Islamabad face racial profiling and surveillance. Over time, they have learned the importance of staying connected to fight these challenges," Imaan explains. When one of them goes missing (which is a frequent occurrence), the students mobilise online and begin to strategise to secure the abductee's release.

In Imaan, these students have found a sincere ally who is always there to offer pro bono legal assistance.

Sedition case over a peaceful protest

But this advocacy is not without a cost. In March, Islamabad police registered a sedition case against Imaan Mazari and Baloch students after they held a protest demonstration seeking recovery of an abducted student of Quaid-e-Azam University, Hafeez Baloch, and against harassment on campuses.

Imaan says she was shocked at being booked by the police merely for participating in the Baloch students' protest, but was more worried for the students who became vulnerable to harassment following the FIR. A day later, however, Justice Athar Minallah stopped police from arresting or harassing the students and others nominated in the case. Later, during hearing of another case filed by Imaan on behalf of the students, he also directed the formation of a commission to investigate harassment of Baloch students across the country.

Like persecuted students, many journalists facing harassment for their work have also turned to Imaan for help. In 2020, when journalists critical of the 'hybrid regime' were being slapped with criminal defamation charges, a Journalists Defence Committee was formed by a group of lawyers from the Pakistan Bar Council to offer pro bono services to journalists. Imaan has been an active member of this lawyers' body and has represented journalist Asad Toor who was brutally beaten up at his home in Islamabad last year. She was also the counsel for journalist Absar Alam when he had a sedition case filed against him over a tweet.

In Imaan, these students have found a sincere ally who is always there to offer pro bono legal assistance.


Imaan is also providing assistance to missing journalist Mudassar Naaru's mother in her struggle to seek her son's recovery. Mudassar's wife passed away last year, leaving behind their four-year-old son, Sachal.

Imaan Mazari with Sachal


The cost of speaking truth to power

Like others working for human rights and the rule of law, Imaan often faces life threats. "The online abuse does not bother me anymore, but the threats are no longer restricted to social media," she says.

Last year, Imaan's mother Shireen Mazari, who was then a federal minister, was threatened to 'do something' about her daughter or risk losing her. Just two days after this threat, Imaan's car parked at Rawalpindi katchery was hit by an unknown vehicle. She remained unhurt because she was not inside the car at the time of the incident.

Asked whether these scare tactics affect her, she said, "Not once have I considered stopping my advocacy work due to these threats. If you keep looking over your shoulder, it derails you from the cause and your detractors win."

Meanwhile, the fact that Imaan and her mother, a senior leader of the PTI, hold entirely different views is also used against her by her haters. "This criticism is laughable, because I don't control my mother and she doesn't control me," Imaan says.

To avoid heated debates during family time, Imaan and her mother try not to discuss politics at home. "But we cannot help it, and end up arguing even during family events," she says.

When asked if the change in government and the establishment's supposed 'neutrality' has made things easier for rights activists, she says not much has changed. "Citizens continue to be abducted and harassed. The impunity enjoyed by the powers that be continues."