A human right activist, Gulalai Ismail, has been forced into hiding for raising voice over the rape and murder of an 11-year-old minor in Pakistan.
In an open letter demanding Ismail’s protection, a group of women activists including Mariana Katzarova of Reach All Women in War, Binalakshmi Nepram of the Northeast India Women Initiative for Peace and Jaana Rehnstrom of the Kota Alliance, appealed to the government of Imran Khan to ensure her safety.
The letter has been passed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director at Amnesty International said that “harassment, threats and intimidation of Gulalai Ismail and her family at the hands of the Pakistani authorities must end”.
“Instead of addressing the alarming human rights situation in the country, they are expending their energy and resources on trying to silence human rights defenders,” he added.
Ismail’ ordeal began almost a year after Pakistanis elected Imran Khan, as their Prime Minister.
Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) activist Gulalai Ismail’s name had been charged with sedition under anti-terrorism laws after taking part in protests to highlight the reportedly hapless response of the authorities to the killing last month of Farishta Mohmand, whose body was found in woodland near the family’s home in Islamabad.
The Imran Khan government had blacklisted Ismail on May 27 in connection with anti-state speeches case.
In a speech in the nation’s capital, Ismail, called on police and security agencies to move to protect citizens, in particular members of the Pashtun minority to which both she and the child belong.
Two cases had been registered against her in Islamabad under the anti-terrorism act for delivering ‘anti-state’ speeches and for allegedly inciting Pashtuns against the government and armed forces.
The first information report (FIR) lodged against the PTM leader mentions sections 500 (punishment for defamation), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups, etc) and 124-A (sedition) of the Pakistan Penal Code, as well as sections 6/7 of the Anti-terrorism Act, 1997.
She was briefly apprehended by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) at Islamabad Airport upon her arrival from London on June 10. After two hours of interrogation, she was later allowed to go.
In a Tweet on June 4, Gulalai Ismail’ father Professor Mohammad Ismail recounted the harassment his family was facing in the hands of the Pakistani authorities. He wrote that their home was raided on June 3 “by a large contingent of male police and security agencies before iftar.” He said they took away his mobile phone and his wife’s and the CCTV system. “They had no court order and didn’t give me any receipt of taking away these things. They were threatening me to be taken away,” he wrote on Twitter.
Gulalai, a Pashtun and women’s rights activist, was in 2017 awarded the ‘Reach all Women in War’ Anna Politkovskaya Award.
She co-founded a non-governmental organisation, Aware Girls, with sister Saba Ismail in 2002. The organisation aims to strengthen the leadership skills of young people, especially women and girls.