- Global rights alliance condemns the detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member who has been promoting human rights in Pakistan for more than a decade
- Ismail and his family have been facing months of harassment and intimidation
- This incident highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression
CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is extremely concerned about the arbitrary detention of Muhammad Ismail, a human rights activist and CIVICUS member, and calls for his immediate release. His detention is a serious escalation of the ongoing judicial harassment and intimidation of Ismail and his family that has persisted for months.
In July 2019, Muhammad Ismail was accused of baseless charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act in connection with the legitimate human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail. On 24 October 2019, he travelled to the Peshawar High Court for a hearing, which had been routinely postponed. He was leaving the premises when he was accosted outside the court by men dressed in black militia uniform, who forced him into a black vehicle. His whereabouts remained unknown until the morning of 25 October, when he appeared in the custody of Pakistan’s Federal Investigations Agency before a judicial magistrate and brought with further charges under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act. He was served a 14-day judicial remand and remains detained.
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. 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. His daughter Gulalai Ismail is a human rights defender who has faced persecution from authorities for her advocacy for the rights of women and girls, and her efforts to end human rights violations against the ethnic Pashtun people. She was subsequently granted asylum in the United States of America.
“The Pakistan authorities must immediately release Muhammad Ismail from pre-trial detention and drop all charges against him. The new set of baseless charges levelled against him today are a clear continuation and escalation in an ongoing campaign of judicial harassment,” said Josef Benedict, Civic Space Researcher with CIVICUS.
Prior to his detention, Muhammad Ismail and his family had faced months of harassment and intimidation, including at least three raids on their family home in Islamabad, as well as threats of physical harm to Gulalai Ismail’s younger sister. Security forces also took away the family’s driver, interrogated him, and subjected him to physical acts of ill-treatment. Previously, on 18 October 2019, Muhammad Ismail survived an attempt to abduct him from his home in Islamabad.
“The authorities must also cease all forms of harassment and threats against Ismail’s family. This highlights the hostile environment for human rights defenders and others in Pakistan to exercise their freedom of expression,” said Josef Benedict.
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. There have been ongoing cases of enforced disappearances in Pakistan despite pledges by the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to criminalise the practice
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.
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Josef Benedict ;