Judicial harassment of human rights defender Muhammad Ismail
World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Front Line Defenders, FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT), and the International Service for Human Rights strongly condemn the deliberate targeting of human rights defender Muhammed Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail, the parents of woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail. The authorities must halt the ongoing judicial harassment against Gulalai Ismail and her family, which is a direct reprisal due to her human rights work. Gulalai has multiple criminal complaints filed against her, including under regressive anti-terror laws. Since she was forced to leave Pakistan due to concerns for her safety, her parents have been targeted under the Penal Code, anti-terrorism laws and cyber security legislation. In the most recent incident, Pakistan authorities approached the Anti Terrorism Court in Peshawar, and filed a new case with charges that include sedition and terrorism. On 30 September 2020, the court charged the three defenders.
Muhammed Ismail is the Secretary-General of the Pakistan NGO Forum (PNF), an umbrella body of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Pakistan. He has been critical of human rights violations in the country, particularly the treatment of his daughter, human rights defender Gulalai Ismail. The woman human rights defender and her family have been targeted by Pakistani authorities in response to a speech she made in 2019, criticising the state/military response to the rape and murder of a minor girl. Since then, several First Information Reports have been subsequently filed against them, forcing Gulalai Ismail to leave Pakistan for her safety.
On 2 July 2020, the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Peshawar had acquitted Gulalai Ismail and her parents, Muhammad Ismail and Uzlifat Ismail, of charges related to financial terrorism. Two months since, the authorities moved the court and filed the same case with additional charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy against the State.
On 30 September 2020, the Anti-terrorism court in Peshawar heard the case and charged Muhammad Ismail, Uzlifat Ismail and Gulalai Ismail under Sections 11-N, 124-A, 120-B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which relate to sedition and criminal conspiracy, and 7(g)(i) of the Anti-terrorism Act of 1997. These charges carry heavy prison sentences. The defenders pleaded not guilty and are to appear for their next hearing on 26 October 2020.
Further to the court case, the Federal Bureau of Revenue has sent over ten letters to Muhammad Ismail and his wife, Uzlifat Ismail, asking them to file taxes for the past six years. However, Muhammad Ismail has not been running any business and does not have a regular monthly income and his wife is a home maker. The last date to file the tax was mentioned as 31 August 2020, however, the letters were only received on 1 September 2020. The family believe that this delay was intentional to further target them with additional legal proceedings.
Less than a year ago, on 24 October 2019, Muhammed Ismail was forcibly abducted from outside the Peshawar High Court by unidentified men. He was later found in the custody of Federal Investigation Agency’s Cyber Crimes Unit. He was charged under the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act for “hate speech” and “spreading false information against government institutions”. The defender was granted conditional bail after spending a month in detention. However, on 20 April 2020, the defender was summoned for a court hearing after the Federal Investigation agency filed an appeal at the Peshawar High Court to revoke the conditional bail that was granted to the defender on 25 November 2019.
Muhammad Ismail and Uzlifat Ismail have also been placed on a government Exit Control List (ECL), preventing them from leaving Pakistan. Uzlifat Ismail has been unable to renew her passport as a result of her being placed on an ECL. Both, Muhammad and Uzlifat Ismail, suffer from serious medical conditions including hypertension, diabetes and kidney issues.
The actions of the Pakistani authorities in its targeting of the family are an attempt to silence Gulalai Ismail and punish her for advocating on human rights in Pakistan. Front Line Defenders, CIVICUS, FIDH, the World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT) and the International Service for Human Rights urge the authorities in Pakistan to immediately drop all charges against Muhammad Ismail and Uzlifat Ismail, as we believe that the human rights defenders are being targeted solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights. We urge the authorities to remove all restrictions on the free movement of Muhammad Ismail and Uzlifat Ismail, and cease all further forms of harassment against the defenders, as it is believed that these measures constitute a direct violation of their rights.