Downing College has announced the election of two distinguished alumni, Aitzaz Ahsan and Sir Brian Vickers, to become Honorary Fellows.

The distinguished Pakistani lawyer and politician Aitzaz Ahsan read Law at Downing in the 1960s, and was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn in 1967.

Returning to Pakistan, he developed an internationally respected legal practice while also pursuing a political career as a member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which led to his becoming a Minister for Law and Justice, Minister for the Interior and Narcotics Control, and Minister for Education in Federal Governments of the 1980s. He was Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1994-1999.

As a lawyer he has been a leading advocate of human rights and the rule of law, defending two former Pakistan Prime Ministers regardless of political affiliations (Benazir Bhutto of the PPP, and Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League).

He was a founder member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. His commitment to the rule of law as a vital protection for democracy has led to his detention under several Presidents of Pakistan. This found clear expression in his successful legal challenge in 2007 on behalf of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Chaudhry, to President Musharraf’s decision to dismiss him.

The reinstatement of the Chief Justice was quickly followed by the President’s decision to dismiss several Justices. Aitzaz Ahsan was elected President of the Supreme Court Bar Association in October 2007. At the time he was arguing a legal challenge to President Musharraf’s eligibility as a General to contest the presidential election in Pakistan.

After the declaration of the State of Emergency in November 2007, Aitzaz Ahsan was imprisoned and then placed under house arrest. He was finally released from detention on 3 March 2008.

His writings have contributed to scholarship on Pakistan and democracy. He is the author of The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan, OUP 1996, interpreting the history of Pakistan from the point of view of the catchment of the Indus river—a book that was written while he was imprisoned—and Divided by Democracy, written with Professor Lord Desai of the LSE.

The Master and Fellows of Downing College, in honouring the achievements of Aitzaz Ahsan and his contribution to advancing the rule of law, democracy and human rights in Pakistan, fervently hope that following his recent detention, the Chief Justice and other members of the Bar Association will be reinstated and the rule of law re-established in a democratic Pakistan.

The leading Renaissance scholar Sir Brian Vickers, who was knighted for his services to literature, was a Fellow of Downing from 1966 to 1971, during which time he directed studies in English.

This was a crucial phase for the subject in the College, ushering in a new era of English studies.

From 1975 to 2003 he was Professor of English Literature and Director of the Centre for Renaissance Studies at the University of Zurich. He has been a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford (1980-1) and Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (1986-7).

From 1977-9 he was President of the International Society for the History of Rhetoric, and, from 2004, Chairman of the Society for Renaissance Studies. In 2003 he was Distinguished Senior Fellow at the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. He has served on the editorial boards of several learned journals.

This distinguished scholarly career has been punctuated by the publication of influential books and articles on an impressive range of subjects, extending from Greek tragedy to Jonathan Swift, including major studies of Shakespeare, Bacon, Hooker, and the art of rhetoric.

His books have been translated into several languages. Sir Brian regularly reviews in the literary journals and is in demand as a speaker on the radio, with particular reference to Shakespearean studies.

Downing College has flourished since its foundation 200 years ago. Downing is a friendly and informal community which encourages all students who study here to strive for academic excellence. Downing provides all the essential features which enable students who study here to get the best from their time at Cambridge.

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