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