Pakistani human rights activist Gulalai Ismail had just landed in Islamabad airport when she was detained by federal agents. After nine hours, authorities released the renowned activist on bail but confiscated her passport to ensure she stayed put.
Authorities placed her on the Exit Control List, barring her from leaving the country, based on allegations that she had participated in “anti state” activities stemming from her participation in a rally in August. She fears being sent to prison on what she and others consider to be trumped-up charges.
The award-winning activist has been a critic of military operations that have killed thousands of people and uprooted millions in the country’s northwestern tribal regions over the past decade.
The 33-year-old has denied the allegations, claiming that they are part of an ongoing campaign to stifle dissent in the South Asian country. Dozens of rights defenders and journalists critical of the authorities have been detained, arrested, or have fled the country out of fear for their safety in recent years.
Ismail said the allegations against her are “part of a malicious attempt by state actors to silence human rights defenders.
“I could face prison simply for speaking out about human rights,” she told RFE/RL by telephone.
The allegations stem from a speech Ismail gave during a rally organized by the Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), which has denounced the army’s heavy-handed operations in the militancy-hit tribal regions. The group has called for judicial probes into those killed by the military and has campaigned for ending enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, and discrimination against the country’s Pashtun ethnic minority.
The movement made national headlines when thousands of people from the tribal areas and northwest Pakistan marched to the capital, Islamabad, in February. The rally, ignited by the killing of a young Pashtun shopkeeper in an allegedly staged gunbattle with police in the port city of Karachi, exposed long-held grievances among Pashtuns.