Professor Ismail is the 65-year old father of Gulalai Ismail, a board member of Humanists International and herself a prominent activist. At 16 years old, Gulalai founded the charity Aware Girls, which works to eliminate violence and discrimination against young girls in Pakistan. Gulalai was forced to flee her home country in 2019 after being persecuted for speaking out against sexual assaults and disappearances carried out by the Pakistani military.
Ever since Gulalai successfully relocated to the United States, her family in Pakistan have been punished by association. The family have been subjected to increasing threats, harassment and intimidation from local security forces, including multiple raids on their home by armed men and constant military surveillance of their phones and private messages. Even the family driver has been brutally tortured and interrogated by officials seeking information on Gulalai.
Efforts to silence and punish Professor Ismail began in July 2019, when he was falsely accused of “funding terrorism”. On 24 October 2019, while attending court to defend himself against these charges, Professor Ismail was abducted and forced into a vehicle by the Cyber Crime Wing of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. He was then charged with new accusations of “hate speech” and “spreading false information against Government institutions” under Section 10 and 11 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, on the basis of his social media posts. If found guilty, he could face up to 7 years imprisonment. After a summary hearing on 25 October, he was taken into pre-trial detention for over a month. A small relief came when he was granted bail at the end of November 2019.
Amidst the confusion caused by the Covid-19 crisis, Pakistani authorities are now redoubling their efforts to imprison Professor Ismail by seeking to revoke his bail. On 20 April, he was summoned without warning to attend court for a hearing to revoke his bail. Only after attending court was he told the hearing was to be postponed to an unknown date in the future.
Forcing Professor Ismail to attend court and potentially detain him in one of Pakistan’s notoriously overcrowded prisons during this time poses an extreme and unnecessary risk to his health, and arguably violates his right to life. At 65 years of age and with multiple pre-existing health conditions, including hypertension, heart and kidney problems, he clearly falls within the category of people who are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19. Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan has recognised as much by approving an order allowing concessions to be granted to prisoners in vulnerable groups including those “who are 55 years and older”.
On Professor Ismail’s situation, Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey commented:
This latest attempt is part of a deliberate pattern of events whereby police and military forces seek to intimidate the Ismail family and silence their voices, in violation of their right to freedom of expression.
If he is detained, not only will Professor Ismail’s health be put at risk, he will also be at the mercy of officials who have already proven that they are capable of violating basic human rights norms in their desire to exact retribution on the family.
Humanists International is urging the authorities in Pakistan to end their campaign of harassment against the Ismail family, drop the false charges against Professor Ismail and not to detain him (particularly during this dangerous time).
To read more about Professor Ismail’s case, please see our briefing below.
Director of Advocacy, Elizabeth O’Casey, has separately blogged about general threats to human rights and the rule of law in the context of Covid-19.