PAKISTAN: Activist languishing in jail a month after his arrest on trumped up charges

One month since Professor Muhammad Ismail was arbitrarily detained, he is still languishing in prison on trumped-up charges of ‘hate speech’, ‘spreading false information’ and ‘cyberterrorism’. CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls on the Pakistan authorities to halt his persecution and release him immediately and unconditionally.

In July 2019, Professor Ismail, aged 64, 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. While leaving the premises 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 initially remanded for 14 days and has been denied bail multiple times. His most recent bail hearing has been postponed.

“Professor Ismail is known for denouncing human rights violations by the military, particularly against Pashtun ethnic minorities. His continued arbitrary detention is outrageous, and just serves to demonstrate that the Pakistan government is determined to silence dissent by any means, including using baseless charges against critical voices,” said Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS.

CIVICUS and AHRC are furthermore deeply concerned by credible reports around the appalling conditions under which Professor Ismail is being detained. He has been denied medical care despite having multiple health conditions including a neurological disorder, dislocated discs in his back, kidney pain and high creatinine levels. He has also been denied medical care for his hypertension.

“Deliberately denying medical treatment to any prisoner is unlawful, cruel and inhuman and can amount to torture. Professor Ismail should not even be imprisoned in the first place. The authorities must ensure he receives adequate health care and is treated with respect and dignity,” said Basil Fernando, Director of Policy and Programmes at the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Prior to his detention, Mohammed Ismail and his family had faced months of 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. The accusations against Professor Ismail are unfounded and appear to have been levelled by the authorities to silence Professor Ismail and Gulalai.

Civic space has come under attack in Pakistan in recent years. Human rights defenders and journalists face restrictions in both online and offline spaces and security laws have been misused to criminalise those who are critical of the government and the military. 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 the space for civil society in Pakistan as repressed.