Pakistan

  • CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 28th UPR session (November 2017). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

    Countries examined: Benin, Gabon, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Zambia.

  • CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Benin, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka and Zambia

    The United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years.


    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on six countries in advance of the 42nd UPR session in January-February 2023. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 3rd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. 

    Benin - See consolidated report | See full versions in English and French – The submission by the Coalition des Défenseurs des Droits Humains-Benin (CDDH-Bénin), West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH), the Réseau des Femmes Leaders pour le Développement (RFLD) and CIVICUS, highlights the adoption of restrictive legislation, particularly the Criminal Code and the Digital Code, with its provisions being used against human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists. Additionally, the submission also draws attention to the increasing restrictions and violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly, which includes blanket bans on protests, the militarisation of law enforcement and the use of excessive force, including live ammunition, against protesters, along with increasing legal restrictions to the right to protest.

    Guatemala - See consolidated report | See full versions in English | Spanish –CIVICUS, REDLAD and Accíon Ciudadania detail the use of extreme violence against HRDs and journalists, aggravated by the continued criminalisation and stigmatisation they face from authorities and non-state actors. In this submission, we also express our concern on the adoption of a restrictive legislative framework which could significantly impact on the work of civil society in Guatemala, in a context where the work of CSOs is already vulnerable to obstruction through abusive judicial and administrative proceedings.

    Pakistan - See consolidated report | See full version in EnglishIn this submission, CIVICUS and Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) report, among other issues, the legal and extra-legal barriers imposed on civil society organisations (CSOs) registration and operations in Pakistan, the criminalisation, threats and harassment of human rights defenders and the failure to hold perpetrators to account. It also highlights the alarming efforts to intimidate and censor journalists and media outlets, the criminalisation of online expression and restrictions and attacks on peaceful protests, especially by ethnic Pashtun minorities and women’s rights activists.

    Peru- See consolidated report | See full versions in English and Spanish –CIVICUS and Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH) underline the pervasive violence against HRDs, civil society groups and protesters, who continue to face attacks harassment stigmatisation and killings. State and non-state actors, despite the newly adopted protection mechanisms, have been able to escalate attacks with impunity. The submission further reports cases of judicial harassment against journalists and the gradual reduction of the space for a free and independent press.

    Sri Lanka - See consolidated report |  See full version in English In this joint submission, CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) denounce the ongoing use of excessive force against HRDs and protesters and restrictive laws to limit civic space and fundamental freedoms. Between 2017 and 2022, we observed alarming trends of a government crackdown on protests, arbitrary detention against activists and violations of the freedoms of opinion and expression. The submission further reports the alarming and continuous judicial persecution, harassment and intimidation of HRDs, journalists, student protesters and others expressing dissenting opinions against the government.

    Zambia - See consolidated report |  See full version in English – CIVICUS and Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services Initiative Zambia (GEARS Initiative) report acts of intimidation and attacks on citizens, HRDs, CSOs and journalists in the period leading up to and during the presidential and parliamentary elections in August 2021. The submission also documents the continued use of excessive force by security forces in response to protests. We are moreover particularly worried by the restrictive legal framework, which undermines the freedoms of association, assembly and expression.


    Civic space in Guatemala, Peru, Sri Lanka and Zambia is rated Obstructed, whereas Benin and Pakistan’s is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

  • Global rights group condemns detention of human rights activist in Pakistan
    • Global rights alliance condemns the detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member who has been promoting human rights in Pakistan for more than a decade
    • Ismail and his family have been facing months of harassment and intimidation
    • This incident highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the arbitrary detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member, and calls for his immediate release. His detention is a serious escalation of the ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of Ismail and his family that has persisted for months.

    In July 2019, Muhammad Ismail was accused of baseless charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act in connection with the legitimate human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail. On 24 October 2019, he travelled to the Peshawar High Court for a hearing, which had been routinely postponed. He was leaving the premises when he was accosted outside the court by men dressed in black militia uniform, who forced him into a black vehicle. His whereabouts remained unknown until the morning of 25 October, when he appeared in the custody of Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency before a judicial magistrate and brought with further charges under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. He was served a 14-day judicial remand and remains detained.

    Muhammad Ismail is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. He is a long-standing member of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), a network of national associations and regional platforms from around the world. His daughter Gulalai Ismail is a human rights defender who has faced persecution from authorities for her advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people. She was subsequently granted asylum in the United States of America.

    “The Pakistan authorities must immediately release Muhammad Ismail from pre-trial detention and drop all charges against him. The new set of baseless charges levelled against him today are a clear continuation and escalation in an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher with CIVICUS.

    Prior to his detention, Muhammad Ismail and his family had faced months of harassment and intimidation, including at least three raids on their family home in Islamabad, as well as threats of physical harm to Gulalai Ismail’s younger sister. Security forces also took away the family’s driver, interrogated him, and subjected him to physical acts of ill-treatment. Previously, on 18 October 2019, Muhammad Ismail survived an attempt to abduct him from his home in Islamabad.

    “The authorities must also cease all forms of harassment and threats against Ismail’s family. This highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression,” said Josef Benedict.

    CIVICUS has documented systematic harassment and threats against human rights defenders and political activists, many who have been charged for exercising their freedom of expression. Journalists have also been targeted and media coverage critical of the state have been suppressed. There have been ongoing cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan despite pledges by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to criminalise the practice

    These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Pakistan as Repressed.


    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    Josef Benedict ;

  • India: Crackdown continues in Jammu & Kashmir

    Joint statement at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Our organizations express grave concern over the human rights situation in Jammu & Kashmir, where the authorities imposed severe restrictions after a decision to revoke constitutional autonomy on 5 August 2019, including one of the world’s longest internet shutdowns, which the Indian Supreme Court has said violates the right to freedom of expression.

    Hundreds were arbitrarily arrested, and there are some serious allegations of beatings and abusive treatment in custody, including alleged cases of torture. Three former chief ministers, other leading politicians, as well as separatist leaders and their alleged supporters, remain in detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and other abusive laws, many without charge and in undisclosed locations outside of Jammu & Kashmir.  This violates fair trial safeguards of the criminal justice system and undermines accountability, transparency, and respect for human rights. Journalists and human rights defenders have been threatened for criticizing the clampdown. These violations, as those committed over the past decades, are met with chronic impunity. 

    We urge the government of India to ensure independent observers including all human rights defenders and foreign journalists are allowed proper access to carry out their work freely and without fear, release everyone detained without charge, and remove restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of movement, including where they have been denied the right to leave the country by being placed on the ‘Exit Control List’.

    We also call on the governments of India and Pakistan to grant unconditional access to OHCHR and other human rights mechanisms to Kashmir.

    We further urge the Council to establish an independent international investigation mechanism into past and ongoing crimes under international law and human rights violations by all parties in Kashmir, as recommended by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

    Amnesty International
    Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
    CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Human Rights Watch
    International Commission of Jurists
    International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH)
    International Service for Human Rights
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

    This statement is also supported by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS)


    See our wider advocacy priorities and programme of activities at the 43rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

  • Judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammad Ismail

    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Front Line Defenders, FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT), and the International Service for Human Rights strongly condemn the deliberate targeting of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail, the parents of woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail. The authorities must halt the ongoing judicial harassment against Gulalai Ismail and her family, which is a direct reprisal due to her human rights work. Gulalai has multiple criminal complaints filed against her, including under regressive anti-terror laws. Since she was forced to leave Pakistan due to concerns for her safety, her parents have been targeted under the Penal Code, anti-terrorism laws and cyber security legislation. In the most recent incident, Pakistan authorities approached the Anti Terrorism Court in Peshawar, and filed a new case with charges that include sedition and terrorism. On 30 September 2020, the court charged the three defenders.

  • Judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail persists amid pandemic

    The Pakistan authorities must halt their judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail and drop all charges against them, said CIVICUS, FIDH, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and Front Line Defenders. The human rights defender faces charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act and is currently on conditional bail, which Pakistan’s Federal Investigative Agency has sought to revoke. His next hearing to determine bail is scheduled for 18 May 2020 before the Peshawar High Court.

  • Pakistan fails to meet Millennium Development Goals

    This was stated by deputy country director UNDP Pakistan, Jean-Luc Stalon, at a roundtable discussion on “Consultations on Post 2015 Development Agenda from a Pakistani Perspective” jointly organised by UNDP and Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), here on Wednesday.  Dr Vaqar deputy executive director, SDPI, moderated over the proceedings.


    Millennium Development Goals: The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that were officially established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, following the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.

     

    Read more at Dawn.com Newspaper 

     

     

  • Pakistan shuts down and kicks out 18 International NGOs, with 20 others facing expulsion
    •  Pakistan has expelled 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs)
    • Another 20 organisations are also at risk of expulsion
    • Pakistan’s policy on INGOs effectively hampers the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups

    Global human rights groups have expressed grave concern over the expulsion of 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) from Pakistan.

    The Pakistani authorities ordered the INGOs to leave the country after rejecting their final appeals to remain. According to reports, all 18 expelled organisations, with the exception of two that are still trying to overturn their ouster in court, have closed their operations in Pakistan. Another 20 groups are reportedly also at risk of expulsion following the authorities’ singling out of a total of 38 international aid groups for closure a few months ago.  

    Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, said this was a regressive move that will have a negative impact on thousands of ordinary Pakistani families that have been assisted by these organisations to claim their rights and build a better life.

    “The Pakistani government's closure of international organisations is a clear violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association,” said David Kode, CIVICUS’s Advocacy and Campaigns Lead.

    “It shows a disturbing disregard for the well-being of ordinary Pakistanis who rely on and benefit from the assistance and support provided by these groups," said Kode.

    On October 3, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered 18 INGOs, including Action Aid, Plan International, International Alert and Safer World, to wind up their operations within 60 days. This followed the Ministry’s rejection of their applications for re-registration, without offering reasons, in November 2017.

    Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest population, a fifth of which live in poverty. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached an estimated 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. The INGOs affected by the closure order are engaged in supporting access to healthcare, education and good governance.

    These expulsions come three years after the previous government ordered all INGOs operating in Pakistan to re-register with the Interior Ministry, under a new policy that worked to hamper the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.

    The new policy and registration process required the submission of detailed accounts of INGOs’ current and past project funding. Even more concerning, all INGOs working in the country are required to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which prohibits any participation in ‘political activity,’ such as campaigning and advocacy activities, as well as distribution of materials deemed to negatively affect social, cultural and religious sentiments. The MoU also prevents INGOs from appealing the government’s decisions in court.

    CIVICUS said the removal of these INGOs violates the right to freedom of association enshrined in Article 17 of Pakistan’s Constitution and guaranteed by Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Pakistan is a party to. Any restriction on the right to freedom of association must be in strict compliance with international human rights law. In particular, any restriction shall be prescribed by law and must have a legitimate aim. Furthermore, the law concerned must be precise, certain and foreseeable. It shall also be adopted through a democratic process that ensures public participation and review. The recent actions fulfill none of these criteria.

    “The Pakistani government must reconsider its decision to expel these groups and halt any further plans to shut down other civil society organisations.” Said Kode.

    “Instead, as part of its reform agenda, it should take steps to revise its policy on INGOs to avoid contravening the rights to freedom of expression and association and ensure the policy cannot be misused to restrict organisations’ legitimate work.” said Kode.

    CIVICUS has urged the government to create an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders to operate, in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, among others.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Pakistan as repressed.

    ENDS

    For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

    David Kode - email:

    CIVICUS Media –

  • PAKISTAN: ‘As a result of patriarchal norms, women experience discrimination at all levels’

    Farrah NazCIVICUS speaks about the upcoming International Women’s Day and Pakistani civil society’s role in eliminating inequality and malnutrition with Farrah Naz, country director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). 

    GAIN is a Swiss-based foundation launched at the United Nations in 2002 to tackle the human suffering caused by malnutrition. It works with governments, businesses and civil society to transform food systems so that they deliver more nutritious foods for all people, especially the most vulnerable including children, adolescents and women.

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected women and girls in Pakistan?

    There is little evidence of how COVID-19 has affected women in Pakistan, but this is a country where the gender gap is huge – the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Pakistan 151 out of 153 countries – and there is a general understanding that in the presence of such gaps, disasters such as the COVID-19 pandemic have a potential to have a disproportionate negative effect on women and girls.

    A situation analysis by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems pointed out that women make up 70 per cent of frontline health workers, who are more susceptible to contracting the virus. Similarly, women are a large part of the informal labour force, including domestic and home-based workers (HBWs), 75 per cent of whom were estimated to have suffered economic impacts due to loss of work. Women in the garment and textile industry also lost work due to lockdowns. Due to lack of registration, less than one per cent of women who run micro, small and medium food-related enterprises in the informal sector had access to financial support as their businesses were affected by lockdowns.

    A recent report shows that there are 12 million HBWs who earn around 3,000-4,000 rupees a month (approx. US$17-22), who will face multidimensional challenges including income insecurity, lack of social protection and increased vulnerability in times of crisis. It also indicates that as of 2017, 26 per cent of all microfinance loans had been taken out by women. The pandemic may affect their ability to pay them back, which could result in higher interest rates, penalties and reduced access to future loans.

    In the context of school closures, girls have generally been given more household responsibilities than boys. Prolonged closures could exacerbate inequalities in educational attainment due to higher rates of female absenteeism and lower rates of school completion. As schools reopen, many girls will find it difficult to balance schoolwork and increased domestic responsibilities.

    The Sustainable Social Development Organization, a CSO based in Islamabad, reported a 200 per cent increase in domestic violence cases in Pakistan in the early days of the pandemic. A 25 per cent increase in domestic violence was reported in eastern Punjab, while 500 domestic violence cases were reported in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province after the lockdown. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 399 murder cases were reported in March 2020 alone. In the federal capital, Islamabad, there were thousands of allegations of torture of women, but the National Commission on the Status of Women has remained silent on this.

    There is not enough safe and nutritious food and access to routine health services is limited. Pregnant women and children from vulnerable sectors have been severely affected and it is estimated that about 150,000 additional children across Punjab will be malnourished due to the pandemic.

    As usual, although women actively participate in harvesting food and have the primary responsibility for cooking meals, they often eat last and least, after male family members have been served. This is because social norms don’t value them equally and their interests are not prioritised.

    On top of this, the Ehsaas Ration Programme, which provides a subsidy that can be used to purchase staples such as flour and cooking oil, requires beneficiaries to have a national identity card, which women are much less likely to have than men. Across Pakistan, at least 12 million fewer women than men have such cards.

    How has civil society responded to these challenges?

    Civil society had tried to increase its humanitarian interventions to address not only pandemic-related health and safety issues but also the practical needs of vulnerable populations in terms of access to basic food and non-food items. Major networks of international and national organisations, governmental and civil society, have worked together to reach millions of people during the pandemic. Many CSOs focused on the needs of women, girls and transgender people.

    Many CSOs also concentrated their efforts on addressing domestic violence. While there have always been domestic violence helplines, new ones quickly emerged. And many in the private sector focused specifically on providing counselling services to address the mental health issues that people faced during extended lockdowns. 

    How has GAIN responded to the impacts of COVID-19 in local communities in Pakistan?

    In line with its mission of ensuring access to nutritious food, especially to the most vulnerable people, GAIN focused on keeping food markets working. Our work had several components.

    First, we worked with food-related small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that were struggling to survive, and especially with those that were owned or led by women, and provided small survival grants to selected SMEs.

    Second, we provided grants to enable employers in the food industry to support workers’ health and nutrition through emergency food support. Twenty thousand food workers and their families benefitted through this programme in Pakistan – and many more in other low- and middle-income countries where we work.

    Third, we cooperated with social protection programmes to ensure that food and ration distribution include fortified staple foods for the most vulnerable families and individuals dependent on food and ration distribution networks. Over 8 million meals were fortified in six districts across Pakistan. 

    Fourth, we worked with urban food system stakeholders and traditional markets in urban areas to ensure that safe and nutritional foods remained available and accessible to people. We addressed issues of food safety in markets and for consumers through awareness campaigns and the distribution of masks and sanitisers, and helped design policy options to increase the resilience of the food system. We implemented this programme in two cities of Pakistan. 

    What are the main women’s rights issues in Pakistan, and how is civil society working to bring them into the policy agenda?

    A lot of progress on women’s rights has been made over the years, but the status of women continues to vary considerably across classes, regions and the rural/urban divide, due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal and feudal social formations on women’s lives.

    Overall, improvements are spreading through Pakistan: for instance, an increasing number of women are literate and educated. CSOs and religious groups are increasingly denouncing violence against women. The All-Pakistan Ulema Council, which is the largest group of religious clergies in Pakistan, has issued a fatwa – that is, a legal ruling – against so-called ‘honour killings’. Courts have answered the call by women’s rights advocates and are delivering harsher punishments for violent crimes against women.

    Pakistan has adopted several key international commitments to gender equality and women’s human rights – including the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Sustainable Development Goals. Some domestic laws have also been enacted to protect the rights of women.

    However, gender inequality remains a prominent issue, as revealed by most development indicators. Child marriage is high: 21 per cent of girls under 18 are already married. Limited access to education heavily impacts on Pakistani children, especially girls.

    Women from the lower classes are often only able to work informally from home: 12 out of the estimated 20 million HBWs in Pakistan are women. Women are estimated to account for 65 per cent of the contribution of HBWs to Pakistan’s economy, but most receive low wages and are denied legal protection and social security.

    The CSO White Ribbon Pakistan reported that between 2004 and 2016, 47,034 women faced sexual violence and there were over 15,000 registered ‘honour crimes’. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Index Report ranks Pakistan second to last regarding domestic violence rates. But at 2.5 per cent, conviction rates for these crimes are exceedingly low.

    And although Pakistan was one of the first Muslim countries to have a female prime minister, it currently has only 20.6 per cent female representation in the lower house of parliament with an even lower rate, 18.3 per cent, in the upper house.

    In sum, as a result of patriarchal norms that subordinate women to men, women experience multiple forms of discrimination at all levels, from their everyday home life to political participation on the national stage. 

    Many CSOs are working to promote women’s and girls’ rights in Pakistan. Although the situation remains tough and there is much backlash in response to women being vocal about their rights, the strong women’s movement of Pakistan is getting stronger and making sure women’s rights issues remain alive and progress continues to happen.

    The International Women’s Day (IWD) theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How have you organised around it in the communities you work with?

    On IWD, GAIN offices in Africa, Asia and Europe are continuing to do the work that needs to be done while also taking the time to recognise women’s achievements in improving food systems.

    As we know only too well, women’s contributions are often undervalued, unpaid and overlooked. This is even more pernicious in connection to food systems, where women are key leaders at every step of the way – as farmers, processors, wageworkers, traders and consumers. And still women and girls are often the last members of a household that get to eat.

    In 2021, for the second year in a row, the Global Health 50/50 report – an annual survey of public, private, civil society and international organisations operating in the global health space – ranked GAIN’s gender and equity-related policies very high. This is because GAIN is fully committed to ensuring diversity throughout its programmes. We are currently developing a new programmatic gender policy to ensure women involved in food systems are given the same opportunities as men and their rights are always fully respected. We have also purposefully diversified our board and senior leadership, including our country directors. Our board has recently committed to seeking gender balance, meaning that it will have to make sure that at least half its voting members are women. And we are one of the few organisations that has a young female Partnership Council member. All of this is what gives us the right perspective in addressing nutrition challenges that differentially affect women and girls.

    Civic space in Pakistan is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with GAIN through itswebsite orFacebook page. 

  • PAKISTAN: ‘Democratic forces have become weak due to prolonged military regimes’

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme ofreimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks to Peter Jacob, the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice in Pakistan, a civil society organisation (CSO) engaging in research and advocacy on human rights, the democratic development and social justice. He has been an activist, researcher and freelance journalist for over 30 years.

    In Pakistan’s July 2018 elections, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, a party led by Imran Khan,emerged as the largest party in parliament, breaking the decades-long dominance of the Pakistan People's Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. The election wasovershadowed by hundreds of political arrests, a massive crackdown on the media and allegations that the powerful military covertly backed Imran Khan.

    What do you see as the key components of a functioning democracy, and how do you assess the quality of democracy in Pakistan against those standards?

    Just as anywhere else, a functioning democracy should have democratic norms, including constitutions and traditions, democratic institutions, including parliament and an opposition, basic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and a robust civil society that advocates for exercising these freedoms. Pakistan is struggling to become an inclusive and vibrant democracy after transitioning from a military-led government, even though direct military rule ended 10 years ago.

    Pakistan faces an inherent challenge on account of having a constitution that provides for both a theocracy and a democracy, or a mix of religion and politics, posing specific risks to the rights of religious minorities.

    How would you assess the conduct of the July 2018 elections? To what extent do you feel they were free and fair? What were the key challenges encountered and lessons learned?

    The elections were held at a time when the previous government was facing trials on corruption and other charges, so there was a lot of speculation and allegations of gerrymandering. The government and the opposition have agreed to form a parliamentary commission to probe into these allegations. Whatever the outcome, one expects that it will help bring maturity and stability into the politics and governance of the country.

    Until recently Pakistan has faced enormous challenges such as terrorism and lawlessness, low economic performance and an expanding population. It is understandable that the government system is weak and recovery is expected to be incremental. Additionally, the electoral system is not strong enough to have full transparency of the electoral process.

    Nevertheless, one can say that there was wide participation by citizens in the recent elections and therefore the continuation of the democratic process presents hopes for building a fuller democracy. The decision of the opposition to become part of parliament has at least ensured that there isn’t a political crisis in the immediate post-election phase.

    How did conditions for civil society change in the run-up to the elections?

    A section of government has been always sceptical of CSOs; therefore, action against both international and domestic CSOs started back in 2015, largely through registration laws that were used to curtail their operations or their role in the social and public spheres. A smear campaign has also been going on, particularly against rights-based groups, which has pushed them to justify and maintain their own existence. CSOs also became victims of terrorism, and even though terrorist attacks have gradually decreased since 2015, a recovery from that situation has not come about. Therefore, the July 2018 elections did not do much to change the conditions for the civil society for the better.

    To what extent was civil society able to mobilise around the elections?

    Owing to these existential threats, during the recent elections, there were few organisations that could participate or even prepare to mobilise opinion around the elections.

    However, due to popular human rights campaigns in the past and present, all political parties were obliged to incorporate a section on human rights in their election manifestos, which provides space for CSOs engagement in the future.

    What are your key hopes and fears for the new administration that has come to power following the elections, and what should its priorities be?

    The new government presents hope as it has come up with a rather holistic version of a development agenda, so besides a capitalist or neoliberal agenda they have laid an emphasis on environmental conservation, austerity and fighting corruption. Pakistanis, including the opposition, want this agenda to succeed as much as the government does. But Imran Khan has assumed power for the first time at the federal level and is therefore prone to mistakes. The biggest fear is that this team might land themselves in a trouble politically or take on a challenge bigger than they can handle. For example, the government made high claims about reducing its dependence on foreign lending yet it was obliged to approach the International Monetary Fund for a bailout. This indicates some miscalculations or poor assessment of the challenges in the economy and the way forward.        

    Some delicate issues may serve as on-the-job training for the government. For instance if the government can handle religious extremism where they have shown some tendency to perform - as in the well-known case of Asia Bibi, a victim of blasphemy laws - there is a pretty good chance that they will take the country forward.

    Besides focusing on economic challenges, the government should also pay attention to the quality of education and cultural rights. At the moment, public education is mere indoctrination, and cultural and creative expressions are suffocated by censorship of various kinds, so they need to be unshackled.

    Are there other key challenges for civil society’s fundamental rights and democratic freedoms in Pakistan?

    The country is still passing through multiple transitions, such as in its external relations and the economy, which for too long have depended on US military aid and the World Bank’s financial assistance. The country needs to free itself economically and politically. Democratic forces were weakened by prolonged military regimes. The government is inclined to learn from the Chinese model, which is not a democratic one.

    The media is facing curbs on its freedoms and CSOs are facing severe restrictions including a clampdown on receiving foreign funding, although CSOs are fighting back. Given its tradition of struggle against autocratic regimes, civil society might still make a comeback; however, there is currently a lot of confusion as to how civil society space will be reclaimed. But since Pakistan is setting up human rights institutions for women’s, children’s and human rights more generally, these institutions may help to disseminate a stronger discourse and bring attention to fundamental standards of freedoms and rights.

    What support does Pakistani civil society need from the international community and international CSOs to help build greater respect for human rights and democratic freedoms?

    Human rights are all about internationalism and multilateralism, and countries must give and receive support from international actors, including international civil society, in their struggle for freedoms, which we strongly believe are interrelated. I would therefore like to encourage the international community and international CSOs to visit Pakistan, take stock of the ongoing developments and engage with the Pakistani people as well as the government.

    Civic space in Pakistan is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor

    Get in touch with the Centre for Social Justice on Pakistan through theirwebsite

  • PAKISTAN: ‘It doesn’t matter who casts the vote as much as who counts the vote’

    MuhammadMudassarCIVICUS speaks about Pakistan’s upcoming election with Muhammad Mudassar, Chief Executive Officer at the Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid (SHARP-Pakistan).

    Founded in 1999, SHARP is a human rights civil society organisation working for the rights and wellbeing of vulnerable groups, including refugees and internally displaced people, and working on issues related to people trafficking and smuggling of migrants, including through advocacy at the national and international levels, capacity development, community services and emergency response.

    What’s the political climate in Pakistan ahead of the election?

    Post-COVID-19, like many global south countries Pakistan grapples with security concerns, political instability and economic challenges that affect both its citizens and government. This means that uncertainty loomed over the upcoming election, but the situation is much clearer now and the country is all set to vote for the new parliament. It would be unconstitutional to extend the mandate of the existing caretaker government. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has confirmed that it is set in stone that the general election should be held on time.

    To what extent are conditions conducive to a free and fair election?

    As had always been the case, there’s controversy around the election, which many observers feel lacks conditions for fair competition. While some political parties are free to conduct their activities, others claim to face restrictions in submitting nomination papers and campaigning, and their members are subjected to arrests.

    Over the past 75 years, no prime minister of Pakistan has completed a full five-year term, and they have often ended up in jail. This trend started with Zulficar Ali Bhutto, deposed during martial law in 1977, followed by his daughter Benazir Bhutto, who was dismissed twice. A similar fate befell recent former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan.

    Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) has had ample space for campaigning, even though Sharif, a three-time former prime minister, was ousted for alleged corruption in 2017 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. In October 2023, he returned to Pakistan from exile in the UK, where he had travelled on bail for medical treatment in 2018. Sharif’s corruption conviction and his lifetime ban from politics were overturned by the Supreme Court in early January. Now most political commentators are predicting that the PML-N will win the election.

    In comparison, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is complaining that it has been all but barred from participating in the election. The Electoral Commission of Pakistan disqualified Khan due to one conviction out of around 200 cases against him and barred the party from using its famous cricket bat symbol on ballot papers. Khan has also recently received 10 and 14-year sentences  on charges of leaking state secrets and corruption. Nomination papers of most national and provincial PTI leaders were rejected by District Returning Officers but appellate tribunals of higher judiciary subsequently accepted most and allowed them to context elections.

    Further, there’s no democracy within political parties due to nepotism and dynastic leadership. Most political parties function as family dynasties, which drives independent leaders away. It has rarely been about people’s choices. It doesn’t matter who casts the vote as much as who counts the vote.

    How have civic space conditions changed over the past years?

    The media and civil society are divided and, human rights activists comment, there is an atmosphere of discontent that somewhat hinders the freedom of speech. Further, unemployment and other pressing issues continue to prompt many people to leave Pakistan.

    Still, at SHARP-Pakistan we remain hopeful and keep analysing problems to try to offer solutions. As part of Pakistani civil society, we aspire to forge connections, work alongside and learn from international partners to be able to better promote human rights and democracy at home. We need free and fair elections so that results truly reflect the will of the people.

    How are you and other civil society groups engaging with the election?

    The role of civil society in the election takes the form of support for the institutional processes of a democratic vote well as the more substantive development of a democratic electorate. Civil society is also playing its due role in reducing election-related conflict dynamics and promoting a peaceful electoral environment.


    Civic space in Pakistan is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

  • PAKISTAN: ‘The environment for civil society is suffocating’

    Aasim SaeedThroughout 2018, the space for civil society continued to deteriorate in Pakistan, particularly in the context of July’s election. CIVICUS speaks about the increasing restrictions on criticism and dissent with Aasim Saeed, a Pakistani blogger who in 2017 was abducted and tortured for his online posts. After his release, Aasim was granted asylum in the UK, where he now lives.

    How would you describe the environment for civil society in Pakistan over the past year?

    I would describe it as suffocating. The government uses harassment, threats, abduction, blackmailing through family members, torture and in certain cases death to curb dissent. Restrictions on the freedom of expression have increased and a lot of media houses have resorted to self-censorship. Newspapers are being forced not to give coverage to dissenting voices. For instance, Express Tribune, the Pakistani version of the New York Times, was recently forced to leave blank spaces when an interview with the leader of the Pushtoon Protection Movement, Manzoor Pashteen, was published in its international edition.

    Behind these restrictions are most certainly the military, who abuse the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and the Anti-Terrorism Act. They have started to apply PECA against anybody who tries to raise their voices through social media, as this is the only remaining outlet available for people to raise their concerns.

    The most threatening part is when Pakistan’s intelligence agencies use electronic, print and social media to accuse activists of sedition. It gets life-threatening when religion is used as a tool and accusations of blasphemy are levelled against activists. Articles 295-C and 298 of the Penal Code make the death penalty mandatory for those found guilty of blasphemy. Scarily, those accused hardly ever make it to court, because they are often lynched by street vigilantes.

    The politically motivated use of blasphemy laws is widespread. Professor Junaid Hafeez, a former lecturer in English Literature, has spent years behind bars, often in solitary confinement, due to false blasphemy accusations that were politically and personally motivated. His legal case has not progressed from the District Court in years. Every time a verdict is expected, judges get themselves transferred, while one of Junaid’s key lawyers was shot dead in the early days of the case.

    The situation worsened as the July 2018 elections approached, as opposition parties were challenging the military-backed party that went on to win the elections. Opposition parties weren’t given much coverage on mainstream media and on election day their results were delayed. Serious allegations of large-scale vote rigging were raised as the electronic result transmission system was made to look like it had failed when it hadn’t; the delay was caused intentionally so that ballot papers belonging to various opposition parties could be manually voided. In several districts the number of rejected votes was much larger than the margin of defeat. The number of rejected votes was higher than ever before, even in districts where the total number of votes cast was lower than in the past. In some places a recount was done and the opposition gained a number of extra seats; however, no recount was allowed in key districts, where it was ensured that the military’s puppets got elected.

    Many people don’t give up and still raise their voices, but it’s increasingly dangerous to do so, because people are getting abducted for their Facebook posts or tweets against the powerful military junta or their ‘selected’ prime minister. They have recently started to react if you make online criticisms of the prime minister or any minister. Calling the prime minister a crook can land you in jail. They used to allow criticism of politicians but they are not allowing it anymore.

    You have experienced persecution for exercising online free expression. Can you tell us more about your case?

    In 2017 I was living and working in Singapore, but in early January that year I was in Pakistan for my brother’s wedding when I was abducted from my family home, in broad daylight, by several men in plainclothes who I believe were elements of the security forces. At the time I administered a Facebook page critical of the military establishment, Mochi, and I had been accused repeatedly on mainstream media outlets of promoting blasphemy on social networks.

    Three other bloggers and activists who were also critics of the military and religious establishment were abducted at about the same time. Our websites and blogs were shut down as we were abducted, suggesting the two things were connected.

    Initially I was interrogated about Mochi and ordered to hand over the passwords to my email accounts and mobile phone. Then I was moved to a secret detention facility where I was held alongside people who I think were religious terrorists. I was beaten until I lost consciousness, and moved several times. At another detention facility closer to the capital, Islamabad, I was subjected to polygraph tests while being repeatedly questioned about alleged links to the Indian intelligence service, which of course I don’t have. My interrogators also analysed my Facebook posts and interrogated me about the reasons why I was critical of the army. Several times I thought I would be killed.

    I was gone for about three weeks and was extremely lucky to be released, because many missing persons never return home. Fortunately, there were protests and solidarity actions in Pakistan and around the world, and the Pakistani government was pressured into providing information and eventually releasing me and other kidnapped bloggers and activists. At the same time, a counter-campaign was held by right-wing religious clerics and TV anchors who kept accusing us of blasphemy. But for once, pressures to hold the government accountable for its human rights violations had a positive effect.

    In late 2017 I applied for asylum in the UK, where I am now based.

    What actions should the Pakistani government take to safeguard democratic space?

    At a very basic level, the Pakistani government should adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and respect United Nations resolutions. Citizens should be allowed to speak up and freedom of speech or dissent shouldn’t be equated with treason, which is currently the case. For instance, if you criticise any government institution, and the military or the army in particular, you will be called a traitor and are likely to be booked under charges of treason or sedition, and in certain cases blasphemy. The space for civil society has gradually been reduced and even members of parliament have been abducted for expressing criticism of the government in their parliamentary speeches.

    What support should international civil society give to Pakistani civil society?

    Most international civil society organisations have been forced to close their offices in Pakistan and are not allowed to work in the country. I believe international civil society should engage Pakistani activists in international forums and venues where the issues that affect them can be raised and attention can be drawn to their cases. I personally feel that the current level of engagement is very low.

    Civic space in Pakistan is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with Aasim through hiswebsite orFacebook page, or follow@AasimSaeedPPP on Twitter.

  • PAKISTAN: ‘We appeal to the international community to share the responsibility of welcoming Afghan refugees’

    MuhammadMudassarCIVICUS speaks about the current move to expel undocumented migrants from Pakistan with Muhammad Mudassar, Chief Executive Officer of the Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid (SHARP-Pakistan).

    Founded in 1999, SHARP is a human rights civil society organisationworking for the rights and wellbeing of vulnerable groups, including refugees and internally displaced persons, and working on issues related to trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, including through advocacy at national and international level, capacity development of stakeholders, community services and emergency response.

    What’s the situation of Afghan refugees in Pakistan?

    Pakistan has hosted one of the world’s largest refugee populations for nearly 44 years, as it started receiving Afghan refugees in the late 1970s. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees, around 840,000 of them registered between 2017 and 2018, plus around 775,000 undocumented Afghan migrants. Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, between 400,000 and 700,000 more have arrived in Pakistan to seek asylum and protection through embassies of countries such as Canada, Germany and the USA.

    But the Pakistani government hasn’t announced any policy to provide legal protection to new arrivals. In January 2022, the government barred the issuing of UNHCR asylum certificates to newly arrived Afghans, leaving them in a legal limbo. Acting on behalf of the UNHCR, SHARP has been the frontline organisation offering reception facilities.

    A few weeks ago, a refugee with three or four children ate a mouse poison pill while waiting for resettlement response. Fortunately, SHARP personnel were on site and she was promptly taken to the hospital and survived. This incident reflects the despair many Afghan refugees feel. They’ve spent all their savings coming to Pakistan and waiting while the cost of living only continues to increase. They often seek jobs but there is no legal provision for undocumented Afghans to work or do business. For that they have to use false Pakistani identities, and when they need to leave the country, they’re forced to sell all their assets for next to nothing. The absence of legal protections also leaves them vulnerable to forced labour, and young women are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

    Why has the Pakistani government ordered the expulsion of Afghan refugees?

    The situation in Pakistan remained peaceful for many years, largely due to the cultural and religious similarities between Pakistani and Afghan people. However, in 2014, an attack on school in Peshawar resulted in the death of over 150 students and teachers. More terrorist attacks followed across Pakistan. In response, the government made a national action plan to counter such attacks and adopted a zero-tolerance border management policy. This is because terrorists were believed to be entering Pakistan across the border with Afghanistan.

    Moreover, Pakistan is grappling with a difficult economic situation, including a fuel price hike and high unemployment, with political turmoil further complicating the situation.

    Social media also played a role by spreading content linking Afghan refugees to terrorism, negatively affecting public attitudes towards them. Repatriation of Afghans from Pakistan reached its peak in 2015, and relationships between host and refugee communities have increasingly deteriorated, with incidents of hostility continuously increasing over the years. Tensions escalated during cricket matches, leading to fights among Pakistani and Afghan supporters.

    In response, SHARP initiated community outreach sessions aimed at engaging young Afghans and Pakistanis to identify commonalities and prioritise them over differences to prevent further violence and create an environment of peaceful coexistence.

    How else is SHARP working to help Afghan refugees?

    We have partnered with the UNHCR for over 24 years and we operate in 14 offices with over 300 staff members in strategic locations. SHARP is the first contact point for anyone who enters Pakistan to seek asylum. Our role is to conduct a brief initial reception interview and collect documentation to put together the claims, which are reviewed and processed by the UNHCR for further interviews and the provision of protection documentation. We also provide free legal aid and assistance to refugees and migrants, psycho-social counselling and shelter services for the most vulnerable. We make referrals for medical services, emergency cash assistance and community-based protection services.

    Working alongside the UNHCR, last year SHARP submitted recommendations to the government, wrote letters to the Minister of Interior and met with the National Commission on Human Rights. I visited parliament three times to advocate for a policy for incoming Afghan refugees and the enactment of a national refugee law. Our recommendations stress the importance of a dignified and respectful approach aligned with humanitarian principles and long-term planning. We’ve urged the Pakistani government to engage with the international community, including the European Union (EU), to address this crisis and ensure that Afghans return home only voluntarily and in a dignified manner.

    It’s crucial to note that while Pakistan is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention, for a long time it has welcomed refugees on humanitarian grounds, treating them as friends. It shouldn’t jeopardise years of efforts by expelling them as foes. The government should establish registration centres and give people several months to come forward and register their claims for protection. As it lacks the required technical capacity and resources, it should work closely with international and civil society partners.

    Is Pakistan receiving the international supportit needs to tackle the situation?

    The refugee crisis is a challenge for global south countries, which often lack robust legal protection and face economic difficulties. Lured by promises from third countries, asylum seekers often come to Pakistan and countries such as Bangladesh, Iran and Tajikistan and then await international assistance for resettlement. In Pakistan, hundreds approach our office daily asking for resettlement support, and we try to help, working alongside the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration.

    But the strain on Pakistani security, healthcare, education and other public services has become overwhelming. If the EU or an EU country urges us to host more Afghan refugees, they should first assess how many Afghan refugees they have welcomed in recent years and consider sharing the burden through resettlement programmes. The international burden-sharing mechanism isn’t working to provide breathing space for global south countries. There should be a flexible visa regime for Afghans who are stuck here in Pakistan and waiting to reunite with their families and friends in other countries.

    The situation worsened with the Ukraine crisis, because international support shifted towards addressing those humanitarian needs and the Pakistani crisis stayed largely neglected. Additionally, last year’s flash floods displaced nearly 3.4 million Pakistanis, killed around a million animals and affected numerous refugee communities. Although both the international community and the Pakistani government focused on addressing the consequences of the flood, many internally displaced people have been unable to return to their homes and are still living in camps. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine may further divert international attention and resources away from Pakistan.

    We have already been warned that there would be huge funding cut by approximately 60 per cent in 2024, posing a significant challenge in maintaining work for humanitarian organisations with extensive operations across Pakistan. The uncertainty of survival over the coming year is a pressing concern for us. We appeal to the international community to share the responsibility of welcoming Afghan refugees and support Pakistani humanitarian organisations and the government to help asylum seekers rebuild their lives.


    Civic space in Pakistan is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with SHARP-Pakistan through itswebsite or itsFacebook page, and follow@sharp_pak onTwitter.

  • Pakistan: Alarm over attacks on human rights defenders and journalists

    Statement at the 53rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Adoption of the UPR report of Pakistan

    Delivered by Gulalai Ismail


    Thank you, Mr President. 

    Mr President, the Asia Legal Resource Centre, Aware Girls and CIVICUS welcome the government of Pakistan's engagement with the UPR process.  

    Since its last review, Pakistan has only partially implemented three of the fourteen recommendations relating to civic space. We welcome that Pakistan accepted twenty of the twenty-two recommendations on civic space it received during this cycle including to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for the work of journalists and human rights defenders; review the law for Electronic Crimes and ensure that it does not affect freedom of expression and end the extra-legal use of force as well as use of enforced disappearances.

    Despite these commitments, space for civil society has continued to come under attack in recent years. We have documented barriers for CSOs to register and operate, the criminalisation of human rights defenders and journalists on fabricated charges.  We are further alarmed by efforts to intimidate and censor journalists and media outlets, the criminalisation of online expression and restrictions and attacks on peaceful protests, especially by ethnic Pashtun minorities and women’s rights activists. 

    Mr President, our organisations call on the Government of Pakistan to take concrete steps to address these concerns, including by halting the use of anti-terrorism legislation to arrest, detain and prosecute activists, to drop all charges against human rights defenders Muhammad Ismail and release Idris Khattak and amend the 1960 Maintenance of Public Order law, to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly. 

    We thank you. 


    Civic space in Pakistan is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.

  • Pakistan: Chronology of harassment against human rights defender Muhammad Ismail

    Prof Ismail

    Pakistani human rights defender Professor Muhammad Ismail, aged 69, is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGOs Forum (PNF), an umbrella body of civil society organisations (CSOs) in Pakistan. Since July 2019, Muhammad Ismail and his family have faced systematic harassment and intimidation from the security forces. Muhammad Ismail is currently in detention on trumped-up charges.

  • Pakistan: Civil society calls for the immediate release of Mohammed Ismail

     UPDATE 26 November 2019: 


    بالعربية

    The undersigned members of CIVICUS, the global alliance of civil society organisations, and the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) call for the immediate release of Professor Mohammed Ismail from pre-trial detention in Pakistan and an end to all forms of harassment, intimidation and threats against him and his family.

    Mohammed Ismail is a long-standing member of AGNA, a network of 90 national associations and regional platforms from around the world. He is the focal person for the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. His daughter Gulalai Ismail is a human rights defender who has faced persecution from authorities for her advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people. She was subsequently granted asylum in the United States of America.

    In July 2019, Mohammed Ismail was accused of charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act in connection with the legitimate human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail. On 24 October 2019, he was accosted outside Peshawar Court by men dressed in black militia uniforms, who forced him into a black vehicle. His whereabouts remained unknown until the morning of 25 October, when he appeared in the custody of Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency before a judicial magistrate and brought with further charges under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. He remains detained and his bail requests have been rejected by the courts.

    We are furthermore deeply concerned by credible reports we have received around the appalling conditions under which Professor Ismail is being detained which may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. He has been denied medical care despite having multiple health conditions including a neurological disorder, dislocated discs in his back, kidney pain and high creatinine levels. He has also been denied medical care for his hypertension.

    Prior to his detention, Mohammed Ismail and his family had faced months of intimidation, including at least three raids on their family home in Islamabad, as well as threats of physical harm to Gulalai Ismail’s younger sister.

    The accusations against Mohammed Ismail are unfounded and appear to have been leveled by the authorities to silence Mohammed Ismail and Gulalai. Such judicial harassment and intimidation highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders, journalists, and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression and be critical of the state.

    We, CIVICUS and AGNA members urge the Pakistan authorities to release Professor Ismail immediately and unconditionally, and to put an end to all acts of harassment against Professor Mohammed Ismail, Gulalai Ismail and their family and drop all charges against them. We also call on the authorities to take immediate steps to ensure that all human rights defenders in Pakistan can carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisals.

    Signatories:
    1. PCS Palestine
    2. Hui E! Community Aotearoa
    3. Uganda National NGO Forum
    4. Plataforma de ONG de accion social
    5. Balkan Civil Society Development Network
    6. Botswana Council of NGO’s
    7. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour le Développement (RESOCIDE)
    8. PIANGO
    9. Network of Estonian Non-profit Organizations
    10. Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo
    11. Alianza ONG
    12. Samoa Umbrella Non Government Organization
    13. NGO Federation Nepal
    14. Nigeria Network of NGOs
    15. Scotland’s International Development Alliance
    16. Civic Initiatives, Serbia
    17. SOSTE Finnish Federation for Social Affairs and Health
  • Pakistan: Democracy Dialogue Report: 17 August 2018

    Democracy Dialogue held by Blue Veins in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 17 August 2018

  • Pakistan: Government has failed to comply with UN Working Group findings to end persecution of Muhammad Ismail and family

     

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and Front Line Defenders, call on the Pakistan government to immediately comply with recommendations of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on the case of human rights defender Muhammad Ismail and put an end to all acts of harassment against him and his family.

  • Pakistan: Government orders closure of 18 civil society organisations

    Global civil society calls on the Government of Pakistan to reverse its order to close 18 human rights and development organisations

    25 national, regional and international civil society organisations (CSOs) express their deep concern over the suspension and expulsion of 18 international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) in Pakistan. These organizations serve millions of people in Pakistan and contribute to the country’s economic and social development. We are also concerned that these actions indicate further restrictions to Pakistan’s already repressed civic space and urge the government to reconsider this decision.
     
    On 3 October 2018, Pakistan’s Interior Ministry ordered 18 INGOs to wind up their operations within 60 days. The Interior Ministry had rejected their applications for re-registration in November 2017 without providing reasons, and subsequently rejected their appeals of the rejections. The appeals of more than a dozen other INGOs are still under review.
      
    These expulsions come three years after the previous government ordered all INGOs operating in Pakistan to re-register with the Interior Ministry in October 2015, under a new INGO policy that effectively impedes the registration and functioning of international humanitarian and human rights groups.
     
    The new policy and registration process required the submission of detailed accounts of INGOs’ current and past project funding. Even more concerning, all INGOs working in Pakistan are required to sign a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which prohibits any participation in ‘political activity,’ such as campaigning and advocacy activities, as well as distribution of materials deemed to negatively affect social, cultural and religious sentiments. The MoU also prevents INGOs from appealing the government’s decisions in court.
     
    Local and concerned NGOs have called on the Interior Ministry to permit the INGOs to reapply for registration before closing their operations to avoid the extensive disruption that would otherwise occur. Pakistan has the world’s sixth biggest population, but a fifth of the people are still living in poverty. INGOs are helping to deliver the new governments’ 100-day reform agenda. In 2017 alone, the INGO sector reached an estimated 34 million people with humanitarian relief and development assistance. The 18 NGOs affected by the closure order are engaged in supporting access to healthcare, education and good governance.
     
    The undersigned groups urge the government of Pakistan to create an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders to operate in accordance with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, among others.
     
    We therefore urge the Pakistani authorities to reconsider its decision to suspend these organisations and to allow them to apply again for re-registration. We also call on the government to revise the policy for INGOs so that it does not contravene the rights to freedom of expression and association and cannot be misused to restrict their legitimate work.
     
    Sincerely,
     
    African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
    Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
    Asia Development Alliance 
    Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
    Association For Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
    Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
    Bytes for All ( Pakistan)
    Caucasus Civil Initiatives Center (CCIC)
    CIVICUS
    Сenter for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
    Civil Society Organisations Network for Development (RESOCIDE), Burkina Faso
    Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
    Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente, Chile
    Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), Myanmar 
    Human Rights Concern - Eritrea (HRCE)
    Innovation 4 Change( I4C)  South Asia Hub
    Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL)
    Karapatan, Philippines 
    Kontras, Indonesia
    Lokataru Foundation, Indonesia
    Metro Center, Iraq
    Odhikar, Bangladesh
    SUDIA (Sudanese Development Initiative), Sudan
    Uganda National NGO Forum, Uganda
    West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH)

  • Pakistan: Human rights activist Muhammad Ismail detained and ill-treated

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the detention and ill-treatment of Mohammed Ismail, a human rights defender and CIVICUS partner, and calls for his immediate release. His detention by Pakistan’s anti-terrorism police is a serious escalation of the ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of Ismail and his family that has persisted since July 2019.

    Both Muhammed Ismail and his wife, Uzlifat Ismail, are currently facing baseless charges in relation to terrorism, sedition and criminal conspiracy. On 2 February 2021, human rights defender Muhammad Ismail was arrested at the Anti-Terrorism Court-III in Peshawar, following the cancellation of his interim pre-arrest bail in a case lodged by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD). He was held briefly incommunicado and is now is in the custody of the Counter Terrorism Department Police Station in Peshawar

    Two days after his arrest, he was taken, bound in chains to his family home in Marghuz village, Swabi District by the Counter-Terrorism police who searched his family home, confiscating mobile phones. According to credible sources the police brought with them documents that were planted during the raid. The police also raided the homes of Muhammed Ismail’s relatives.

    CIVICUS believe all cases brought against him are in retaliation against his criticism of human rights violations in the country and for the human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail, and connected with the state harassment against her. She has faced persecution from authorities for her peaceful advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people in Pakistan. She was forced to flee the country due to concerns for her safety.

    “This is another example of state machinery being used in Pakistan to intimidate and silence human rights defenders like Muhammed Ismail and Gulalai Ismail, including by allegedly fabricating evidence to support baseless accusations. The Pakistan authorities must immediately release Muhammad Ismail from detention and drop all charges against him and his wife,” said David Kode, head of advocacy and campaigns at CIVICUS.

    Mohammed Ismail is a prominent member of Pakistani civil society and the focal person for the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body composed of five networks of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. He is a long-standing member of the Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA), a network of national associations and regional platforms from around the world.

    Prior to his detention, Mohammed Ismail and his family had faced systematic harassment and intimidation from the security forces.  In October 2019, Muhammed Ismail was forcibly abducted from outside the Peshawar High Court by unidentified men, and later found in the custody of Federal Investigation Agency’s Cyber Crimes Unit.  He was granted conditional bail after spending a month in detention. Muhammad Ismail and his wife have been placed on the Exit Control List, barring them from leaving the country.

    During the pandemic, Muhammed Ismail, 66, has been forced to attend numerous court hearings, many of which has been routinely postponed on the day. During the course of this, Muhammed Ismail contracted COVID-19. It may be the case that numerous court hearings in relation to these charges exposed him to the virus and his detention could put him again at risk.

    “The authorities have been using the judicial system to harass Muhammad Ismail since 2019. Given the pandemic, his age and poor health, we are particularly concerned that his detention could prove fatal” said David Kode.

    CIVICUS has documented systematic harassment and threats against human rights defenders and political activists, many who have been charged for exercising their freedom of expression. Journalists have also been targeted and media coverage critical of the state have been suppressed. 

    These violations are inconsistent with Pakistan’s international obligations, including those under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which it ratified in 2008. These include obligations to respect and protect civil society’s fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. These fundamental freedoms are also guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution. 


    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Pakistan as Repressed

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