Pakistan: Rights group calls for release of activist Professor Muhammad Ismail ahead of bail hearing

  • Rights groups call for release of Professor Ismail ahead of bail hearing on 5 March
  • March 2 marks one month in detention for human rights defender Professor Ismail
  • Police evidence questioned by Pakistan National Assembly's Human Rights Committee

Pakistani human rights defender Professor Muhammad Ismail’s bail application should be accepted by Peshawar High Court on 5 March and the charges against him and his wife, Uzlifat Ismail, should be dropped immediately, says global civil society alliance CIVICUS. On March 2 Professor Ismail will have spent one month in prison. CIVICUS also calls on Pakistani authorities to stop persecuting and intimidating other members of his family.

Professor Muhammad Ismail was arrested on 2 February 2021 after the Anti-Terrorism Court in Peshawar cancelled his interim pre-arrest bail. On 4 February the professor was chained and taken to his family home in Marghuz village, Swabi District.  The Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) police seized documents and mobiles 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 during a meeting on 24 February. 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 Professor Ismail’s case has, “brought disrepute to the Police department”.

Muhammad 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. Since July 2019, Muhammad Ismail 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.

It is believed the case against Muhammad Ismail and his family is in retaliation for the work of his daughter, award winning women’s rights activist Gulalai Ismail. She has faced harassment and persecution from the 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 the 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.”

The 66 year old human rights defender is currently being held in inhumane conditions, sleeping on the floor of  a room holding 60 people.  CIVICUS urges the Pakistani authorities to ensure Professor Ismail is not subjected to torture or other ill treatment in detention, and calls 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 Muhammad 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.

Due to the ongoing persecution of Professor Muhammad Ismail and his family, CIVICUS has added him to its global  #StandAsMyWitness campaign. The campaign urges people to call for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders across the world. People are also encouraged to share his story, and the stories of other rights defenders, on social media using the hashtag #StandAsMyWitness.

CIVICUS calls on the Pakistani authorities to uphold its national and international human rights obligations, release Muhammad Ismail, and drop all charges against him and all members of his family. 



Interviews available:

  • Gulalai Ismail, daughter of Professor Muhammad Ismail and Pakistani rights activist forced to flee the country
  • Josef Benedict, Asia Civic Space Researcher, CIVICUS Monitor

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