Human rights defender Gulalai Ismail faces the threat of arrest for “sedition” under the anti-terrorism act, after campaigning for justice in the case of a girl who was raped and murdered.
Gulalai Ismail is a women’s right activist, human rights defender, and was elected to the Board of Humanists International in 2017.
It was reported in Pakistani media today that an FIR (First Information Report) was raised against Gulalai Ismail in relation to a speech she gave at a rally earlier in the week. The accusation falls under the anti-terrorism act for “delivering seditious speeches and instigating masses against the state institutions”. Gulalai’s speech earlier in the week was widely circulated on social media. The rally and the speech were held to protest the rape and murder of a minor girl known as Farishta.
The body of Farishta was found near the capital’s Shahzad Town area after being allegedly raped. Her family said they had tried to file a missing person report with the police on 15 May, but it took police until 19 May to register the FIR in that case and, even then, a proper search was not initiated. Protesters at the rally this week were objecting to the perceived lack of interest or progress in the case up to that point. Subsequent to the protests, the government and state authorities have pledged to take action on the case and investigate the apparent inaction of police services.
The accusation in the FIR is that this speech was “anti-state” or “seditious”. It is very common for some activists to be branded as “anti-state” or “seditious” in particular when they are critical of military or government actions constituting human rights violations.
Ismail has previously faced accusations of “blasphemy” for example around her work promoting women’s equality, and accusations of being “anti-state” for taking part in Pashtun rights protests and criticizing authorities including the military for human rights violations or failures of justice.
It is particularly concerning that Gulalai Ismail faces the prospect of arrest and detention again, having faced similar accusations several times in the past few years.
There is also significant social media activity surrounding the speech and the FIR, with elements accusing her of “anti-state” activities and posting photographs of her with international NGO contacts (including Humanists International Board members) with the hashtag: “#GulalaiPTMExposed”. (The repeated insinuation is that she is connected to or funded by “foreign” agencies. This is a common allegation against human rights defenders, which endangers the accused by casting them as traitors, terrorists or seditionists.)