Pakistani rights worker: Charges against family unfounded

ISLAMABAD (AP) — An elderly Pakistani human rights worker said Friday his wife and their daughter — who has already fled to America after being targeted by the country’s powerful military for her investigations into human rights abuses by soldiers — face new terrorism-related charges.

In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, retired university professor Mohammad Ismail said he has a number of court appearances this month after an anti-terrorism court charged him, his wife and daughter with involvement in two suicide attacks, one in 2013 and one in 2015.

“They just want to get our girl with these terrorist financing charges,” said Ismail. “ Because they can’t get her they are going after me and my wife, who is a housewife, who has not even had an education but still they ae after her.”

Rights workers in Pakistan like Ismail, and journalists, have increasingly come under attack by Pakistan’s government and security establishments, restricting the space for criticism and dissent.

“We are deeply concerned at increasing attempts to control the media, suppress independent voices, and curb political dissent, thereby creating an environment of constant fear,” said the highly respected independent human rights commission in Pakistan in a recent statement. “It is the responsibility of the government to provide safety and security to every citizen, irrespective of his or her religious or political beliefs.”

Ismail denies the charges against him and says they are aimed at intimidating his daughter, Gulalai Ismail, who fled to safety in the United States earlier this year.

The charges against the 66-year-old Ismail and his family include an allegation by Pakistan’s civilian investigation agencies lodged with an anti-terrorist court in the northwest city of Peshawar. It alleges that a donation to his daughter’s children’s charity, Aware Girls, was spent on cars that were used as suicide bombs. Aware Girls fights discrimination and abuse of girls and women.

The donation came from a group known as Asia Safe Abortion Partnership, which aims to assist young girls with safe abortions. It has an office in hostile neighbor India, but operates in a number of countries in Asia.

Gulalai Ismail has been a longtime advocate of women’s and girls’ rights, particularly in Pakistan’s conservative northwest regions.

In a tweet this week she assailed the attacks on her parents calling Pakistan’s security agencies “shameless,” and accusing Pakistan’s intelligence of aiding anti-India terrorist groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Both are banned organizations whose operations the government and military say they have stopped.

Gulalai Ismail went into hiding and eventually fled the county after Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, known by its acronym ISI, accused her of sedition because of a report she and other rights workers published into allegations of soldiers sexually harassing women and girls in Pakistan’s tribal regions.

The military flatly denied the allegations, but in Pakistan criticism of the military or its intelligence agency can result in threats, intimidation, sedition charges and in some cases being picked up without warning.

Mohammad Ismail said he already faces charges under the country’s sweeping cybercrimes law for criticism of the military on social media. “I never used bad language or said anything that was against Pakistan,” he said.

Ismail said authorities are trying to have his bail revoked in the cybercrimes case and have him imprisoned.

Rights workers are not the only ones under attack in Pakistan.

Advocacy groups have also been critical of a heavy-handed approach to journalists who write critically of the military, which is widely considered to be the power behind the country’s civilian government.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists have issued a number of statements in recent weeks. Most recently the federation was critical of sedition charges against journalists Asad Toor, Bilal Farooqi and Absar Alam “for publishing allegedly ‘objectionable’ and ‘derogatory’ material online.”

The journalists federation called on authorities to “reign in the broad powers of this Act to ensure no journalists are charged solely for criticizing government officials and institutions.”

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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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