Ms Shireen Mazari,
Dear Ms Shireen Mazari,
I am William Nicholas Gomes, a British Human Rights Activist, and Freelance Journalist.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) has informed me that the Anti-Terrorism Court in Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, dismissed a case against Ms Gulalai Ismail and her parents, Mr Muhammad Ismail and Mrs. Uzlifat Ismail, following an investigation opened after a First Information Report (FIR) was lodged against them on July 12, 2019, over charges of “financial support from terrorist organisations”.
Ms Ismail, an ethnic Pashtun and woman rights defender, is the founder of the Youth Peace Network and co-founder and Chairperson of the NGO Aware Girls. Ms Ismail has led a campaign against extrajudicial killings in Pakistan and was awarded the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award by the organisation Reach all Women in War (RAW). Mr Ismail is a prominent and vocal human rights activist and the coordinator of Pakistan NGOs Forum.
According to the information received, on July 2, 2020, the case was dismissed as the Prosecutor was not able to submit any evidence related to the charges filed against Ms Ismail and her parents to the court in the one year the case was open.
The Observatory welcomes the acquittal of Ms Gulalai Ismail and her parents but recalls that Mr Muhammad and Mrs Uzlifat Ismail’s names still figure on Pakistan’s Exit Control List (ECL), which prevents them from leaving the country. Moreover, Mrs Uzlifat Ismail has been denied her passport application, and Mr Muhammad Ismail is still facing charges of “cyber crime”. His bank accounts are also frozen.
I condemn the judicial harassment of Ms Gulalai Ismail, Mr Muhammad Ismail, and Mrs Uzlifat Ismail, which seems to be only aimed at punishing Ms Gulalai Ismail for her human rights work. I call on the Pakistani authorities to immediately put an end to any act of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms Gulalai Ismail, Mr Muhammad Ismail, Mrs Uzlifat Ismail, and their other relatives.
On May 22 and 23, 2019, the police in Islamabad filed two FIRs against Ms Gulalai Ismail, who was charged with “defamation” (Section 500 of the Penal Code), “sedition” (Section 124-A of the Penal Code), “promoting enmity between different groups” (Section 153-A of the Penal Code) and other charges under Section 6/7 of Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. The charges stemmed from a speech she gave at a rally in Islamabad, in which she called for justice in the case of a 10-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in May 2019 and denounced the authorities’ inaction to bring the perpetrator(s) to justice. As a result, Ms Gulalai Ismail was forced into hiding. The case is still ongoing. A petition has also been filed before the Islamabad High Court in order to ban Ms Gulalai Ismail’s social media accounts.
At the same time, Ms Ismail’s relatives have faced repeated acts of harassment and intimidation by security forces. For instance, on May 24, 2019, at dawn, the police raided her family home in Islamabad and threatened her family members. The family’s residence was again raided on May 27. Again, on July 4, 2019, a large group of men in civilian clothes raided three times Ms Ismail’s house in Islamabad and threatened to harm Ms Ismail’s younger sister if the former did not cease her work as an activist. Security forces also took away the family’s driver, interrogated him, and subjected him to physical acts of ill-treatment for about eight hours before he was released.
On July 12, 2019, a FIR was lodged against Ms Ismail and her parents by the Counter-Terrorism Department in Peshawar, accusing them of having received “financial support from terrorist organisations”. Ms Gulalai Ismail’s parents received a Bail Before Arrest (BBA) from the court and as a condition of that BBA, had to present themselves to the court every week. Without any official notification, Ms Ismail’s parents were also placed on the ECL, and the immigration services refused to issue a new passport to Ms Ismail’s mother.
During the night of October 17 to 18, 2019, armed police officers – some in police uniform, and some in plain clothes with their faces hidden – knocked at Ms Gulalai Ismail parents’ house asking for Mr Muhammad Ismail to come out of the house, which he refused to do. The police officers stayed outside the house for an hour before leaving.
On October 24, 2019, Mr Muhammad Ismail was abducted by unidentified men in black clothes outside of the High Court of Peshawar, where he was due to present himself as a bail condition. His fate and whereabouts remained unknown for many hours. It was later discovered that Mr Muhammad Ismail was taken to the Cybercrime department of the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA), where he was temporarily detained. On October 25, 2020, Mr Muhammad Ismail was finally presented to the magistrate of Peshawar Session Court, which ordered a 14 days pre-trial detention against him based on Articles 10 (“cyber terrorism”) and 11 (“electronic forgery”) of the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA). The FIR accused Mr Muhammad Ismail of “broaden hate speech and fake information against Government Institutions of Pakistan” through his Facebook and Twitter accounts. Mr Muhammad Ismail had access to his lawyer during the hearing. Mr Muhammad Ismail was then sent to Peshawar jail, where he was detained until November 25, 2019, when he was granted conditional bail.
i. Put an end to all acts of harassment against Ms Gulalai Ismail, Mr Muhammad Ismail, Mrs Uzlifat Ismail and their relatives, including the lifting of administrative restrictions;
ii. Guarantee, in all circumstances, the physical integrity and psychological well-being of all
human rights defenders in Pakistan;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against all the human
rights defenders in Pakistan, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals in all circumstances;
iv. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by
the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular with Articles
1 and 12.2;
v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Pakistan.
I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to your earliest response.
William Nicholas Gomes
Human Rights Activist and Freelance Journalist
York, United Kingdom