February 3rd, 2021

By Hamid Riaz 


LAHORE

An Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Peshawar granted to police, three-day physical custody of arrested social activist Professor Muhammad Ismail, a focal person of the Pakistan NGOs Forum. Yesterday the ATC had rejected Prof. Ismail’s pre-arrest bail plea in a “terror financing case” registered against him by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) following which he was handcuffed and taken into custody by the CTD from the court’s premise.

Professor Ismail is the father of the respected human rights activist and vocal member of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) Gulalai Ismail, who is currently in exile in the United States, following a series of botched legal cases and threats to her life in Pakistan. Gulalai has in the past, termed these ‘terrorism’ charges against her and her family as fabricated. Gulalai Ismail’s mother Uzlifat is also nominated in the case alongside Prof. Ismail, however, she was granted bail by the ATC a day ago. A civil rights group in the country and beyond have decried Prof. Ismail’s arrest calling it “political victimization” and have demanded his immediate release.

 The history of the case 

Advocate Shahab Khattak, legal counsel of the family, spoke to Voicepk.net and said that the family was being harassed.

“The entire fiasco began in the year 2017 when the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) forwarded a reference to the CTD alleging that some NGOs associated with Gulalai Ismail were being used as fronts for terror financing,” he said. “And that she had received money from India in the accounts she had registered in her parent’s name. In 2019 the CTD registered an FIR against Gulalai and her parents based on this flimsy reference,” explains.

“Following the registration of the FIR in July 2019 Gulalai and her parents contacted the courts for pre-arrest bail. Even though the pre-arrest plea of the activist and her family was strongly contended by the authorities they were not able to produce even a shred of evidence to establish the claims that had been made in the FIR. Finally in July 2020 after a year of hearings, the activist and her family were granted pre-arrest bail by the courts. In addition to granting bail to the accused activists the court also ‘dismissed’ the case citing a complete lack of evidence,” continues Advocate Shahab.

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While dismissing the case the judge also noted that the authorities should approach the courts only when they had concrete evidence regarding the case – a statement which was later exploited by the police to refile the case. This time the police added other ridiculous charges to the charge sheet alleging that Prof. Ismail a human rights activist was somehow associated with the bombings of a Church and an Imam Bargah. “The CTD claims that they have testimonies from extremists claiming that the scooter used in one of the bombings was acquired from the 66-year old human rights defender. I ask them, why they have not arrested the person who acquired the scooter,” asks Shahab while laughing at the police’s logic.

Soon after the case was filed Gulalai Ismail went into exile because of serious threats to her life and state harassment through a series of botched legal cases including this one and a case filed against her for making a speech at a rally held against the rape of a minor girl in KP. Gulalai’s parents on the other hand stayed in the country and were granted pre-arrest bails. On February 2 this pre-arrest bail was rejected by the court and Prof. Ismail was handed over to the police today for three days.

Shahab believes that the case against his clients is still extremely weak and hopes that the court will not grant an extension in custody to the police should they ask for one in the upcoming hearing. “The courts have clearly remarked that the police should use this time to collect concrete evidence against the accused which I do not think the police has. So I am hopeful that Prof. Ismail will be taken into judicial custody after which we will be able to initiate his bail proceedings.

 A record of intimidation:  

This is not the only state action taken against the veteran activist. Last year the Cyber Crime Wing of the FIA filed a separate case against Prof. Ismail for sharing “anti-state” content on Social Media.

In January a court hearing this case ordered the rights defender to stop sharing “objectionable” content on Social Media following which he released a statement announcing that he “surrenders his right to share the dissident opinion of Social Media”.

In addition to these flimsy legal cases on 24 October 2019 Prof. Ismail was also allegedly forcefully abducted by a group of unidentified individuals who were later identified as personnel of the FIA’s cybercrime wing.

Actions against Prof. Ismail’s NGOs’ network 

In addition to direct actions taken against his person, the state has also targeted people and organizations Prof. Ismail is associated with. For instance, the Pakistan NGOs Forum (PNF), an alliance of several NGOs being chaired by Prof. Ismail has been the target of financial action by the state. “They have not only frozen PNF’s bank account but also the bank accounts of several smaller NGOs which were part of the alliance,” explains Shakeel Wahidullah, KP- focal person of the PNF.

Shakeel denies all the charges leveled against his colleague calling them a “tactic aimed at pressurizing Prof. Ismail’s daughter Gulalai into silence”. “Who can the citizenry approach for justice if the state itself becomes a party,” laments Shakeel.

Official Silence  

Even though the news of Prof. Ismail’s arrest is making headlines in regional and international news outlets there has been a complete blackout of the story in the local media. Moreover, authorities have also failed to clearly explain to the public what the matter is all about. Moreover, the authorities failed to comment for this story even after scores of phone calls with more than half a dozen officials from the Peshawar police and CTD. One cannot help but feel that a gag order is in place about the case.

While the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has strongly condemned the state for keeping Gulalai Ismail’s family “trapped in a cycle of ludicrous charges, arrests, and court dates.”

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