Pakistani authorities must end their judicial persecution of human rights defender Gulalai Ismail, global civil society alliance CIVICUS said today. She is being investigated for defamation and sedition, and other charges under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act, for a speech she made condemning authorities’ inaction in a case of rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl, and has been forced into hiding.
The accusation came after she delivered a speech condemning the state and its institutions, calling the murder “one among many” incidences of violence by the state and its security agencies. According to a news report, a First Information Request lodged against Ismail accuses her of ‘delivering hate speech, inciting ethnic sentiments against the state and Pakistan Army, and causing a sense of fear and terror among people’. At least one medical official has been sacked for criminal negligence over their handling of the case, and Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered action against negligence officials involved in the case.
CIVICUS calls on the Pakistan government to drop these baseless charges against Gulalai Ismail and end the judicial persecution against her. These charges highlight the hostile environment for human rights defenders, journalists and others in Pakistan in the exercise of their freedom of expression, particularly with regards to criticism of the state.
This was not the first time Gulalai Ismail has been persecuted by authorities. In 2017 and 2018 she was targeted by both non-state and state actors for the work of her CSO - Aware Girls to empower women and girls. She has also been targeted for her a support of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement which has mobilised nationwide against human rights violations against Pashtun people.
CIVICUS has documented systematic attacks against the PTM with scores of peaceful protesters arbitrarily arrested, detained and prosecuted on spurious charges, while protests by the PTM have been obstructed by security forces. The Pakistan authorities have blocked media coverage around the protests and harass activists and human rights defenders who have spoken out on the rights of Pashtun people. At least one of the PTM’s leaders has been allegedly killed.
In August 2018, Gulalai Ismail was accused, along with 19 other people, of making anti-state comments and using inflammatory language at a PTM rally in Swabi, Khyber Paktunkhwa province. In October 2018, she was briefly detained at Islamabad airport as she re-entered the country from the UK and her name is on the Exit Control List, which imposes a ban on travelling outside the country, or why. In February 2019, Ismail was briefly detained arrested as she and about 80 other PTM supporters gathered to protest the death in custody of PTM leader Arman Loni.
The Pakistani authorities must take serious measures to foster a safe, respectful, enabling environment for civil society by removing barriers that unwarrantedly limit freedom of association and expression. It must also ensure that human rights defenders like Gulalai Ismail are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction or legal and administrative harassment.