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Plea to release Pakistani rights activist

CIVICUS calls on authorities to stop intimidating Muhammad Ismail's family

UCA News reporter, Karachi

UCA News reporter, Karachi

Updated: March 03, 2021 07:50 AM GMT
Plea to release Pakistani rights activist

Muhammad Ismail with his wife Uzlifat and daughter Gulalai. (Photo supplied)

Pakistani human rights defender Professor Muhammad Ismail’s bail application should be accepted and the charges against him and his wife dropped immediately, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS.

The group also called on Pakistani authorities to stop persecuting and intimidating other members of his family.

Ismail, 66, has been in prison since Feb. 2 when his interim bail was canceled by an anti-terrorism court in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

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On Feb. 4, he was chained and taken to his family home in Marghuz village of Swabi district. The police seized documents and mobile phones belonging to him and his wife Uzlifat Ismail. The houses of relatives were also raided.

The validity of police evidence used to detain the professor has been questioned by Pakistan National Assembly’s human rights Committee.

The committee found the answers given by the officer in the case were unsatisfactory and said due diligence was not carried out while framing the charges. The committee concluded that the handling of Ismail’s case has “brought disrepute to the police department.”

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.

Since July 2019, he and his family have faced systematic harassment and intimidation from the security forces. He and his wife are facing trumped-up charges in relation to terrorism, sedition and criminal conspiracy, CIVICUS claims.

The case against Ismail and his family is believed to be in retaliation for the work of his daughter, award winning women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail. She has faced harassment and persecution from authorities for her peaceful advocacy for women’s rights and her efforts to end violations against the ethnic Pashtun people of Pakistan.  She was forced to flee Pakistan due to concerns for her safety.

In a video released this week by CIVICUS, Gulalai Ismail says she is extremely concerned about the health of her father, who has chronic health problems and only recently recovered from Covid-19:

“My father was arrested for raising a daughter who can speak truth to power. Post-Covid, my father’s health is even more fragile and chronic health conditions can put his life at risk in prison. I urge Pakistani authorities to release my father and to drop all charges against my parents unconditionally. Speaking out for human rights is not a crime,” she said.

Muhammad Ismail is being held in inhumane conditions, sleeping on the floor of a room holding 60 people.

CIVICUS urged the Pakistani authorities to ensure he is not subjected to torture or other ill treatment in detention, and it called on the authorities to give him unrestricted access to his chosen lawyer and family.

“The ongoing persecution and arbitrary detention of Professor Ismail is unwarranted. It is a brutal response by the Pakistani authorities to the human rights activities of his family. He has done nothing wrong and is a victim of a state that does not respect freedom of speech and the rule of law.  Professor Ismail should be released immediately and all charges against him and his family must be dismissed,” said Josef Benedict, Asia civic space researcher at the CIVICUS Monitor.

Ismail’s bail application will be heard on March 5.

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