March 2nd, 2021 

By Asra Haque 


Today marks exactly one month since the arrest and detainment of Professor Muhammad Ismail, father of human rights defender and Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) member Gulalai Ismail, under trumped-up terrorism charges. Gulalai Ismail and her family have been subject to intimidation and harassment by the agencies since 2018.

In October 12, 2018, Gulalai was first apprehended at the Islamabad airport on a return flight from London along with 19 others, and remained in custody for several hours for making anti-State and anti-military remarks in a PTM rally in Swabi two months prior. In February 2019, she was once again detained for two days during a PTM protest rally against the custodial death of party activist, Arman Luni.

In May 2019, Gulalai was formally charged with sections 124-A (sedition), 153-A (inciting violence against different groups) and 500 (defamation) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and slapped with sections 6 and 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1997 for a two-minute speech delivered during a protest rally against the rape and murder of 10-year-old Farishta in Islamabad. In the speech, Gulalai called attention to the sexual violence faced by women and children in the border communities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during an ongoing army operation against insurgents. Her parents and supporters were also implicated under these charges, and the activist herself was placed on the Exit Control List (ECL).

“On April 29, then DG ISPR Asif Ghafoor announced that the time for PTM was over. Following that, there was a crackdown on PTM activists which started with me,” she told Gulalai would later come to know that her name was included in a kill-list disclosed by the United Nations in a letter to the State. Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan in an audio message also spoke of an assassination list that mainly contained names associated with the PTM. “There were raids on my home as if I were a top terrorist.”

Her family claims that following the case, their home and the homes of their relatives and friends were raided several times. Gulalai’s chauffeur was arrested and tortured for information while a friend was abducted and tortured via electrocution by security agencies.

Fearing for her life, the activist went into hiding and with the aid of a “small network” managed to flee to Sri Lanka, where Pakistanis can travel sans visa, and then to the US where she has now applied for asylum. Failing to capture her, State authorities turned their attention to Gulalai’s parents who had chosen to remain in Pakistan, and implicated the elderly couple in a terror financing case on July 16, 2019. Charges of sedition (124A and 124B) and terrorism (7-ATA) were included in the FIR lodged against the elderly couple.

Professor Ismail was subsequently abducted by unidentified men outside the Peshawar High Court on October 24, 2019, and was later surrendered to the Cyber Crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and charged for alleged hate speech and spreading false information against State institutions for his statements on Twitter under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. He remained in prison for a month until he was awarded conditional bail by the Peshawar High Court on November 25, 2019.

Professor Ismail and his wife Uzlifat were placed on the ECL without any prior notice to the couple. A notification dated February 18, 209 was finally sent to Uzlifat in February 2020.

On April 20, 2020, the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing appealed to the Peshawar High Court to have Professor Ismail’s condition bail revoked.

The couple was successfully able to attain pre-arrest bail from an anti-terrorism court (ATC) in the terror-financing case, and on July 2, 2020, was discharged under section 265 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr. P.C) after the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) of the FIA failed to produce any evidence to ascertain their allegations. Moreover, the CTD had submitted to the court that it could not find any evidence of the Ismails’ links to terrorist groups and would no longer be a witness against the family.

However, the CTD once again reopened the case with a different presiding judge in an ATC rather than the Peshawar High Court, linking the Ismails to an attack on Peshawar’s All Saints Church in 2013 and Hayatabad’s Imamia Masjid in 2015. The prosecutor submitted ‘evidence’ that Professor Ismail and Ulzifat Ismail had supplied weapons and funds to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to carry out the attack on the church and the Shia mosque. In particular, the CTD alleged that the rigged scooter used in the attack on the church belonged to Gulalai’s father. The ATC formally indicted the elderly couple under these new charges on September 30, 2020.

On January 29, 2021, the Peshawar High Court warned Professor Ismail that his bail would be canceled if he did not stop using his social media, and failed to dismiss the FIA’s bail cancellation plea.

On February 2, 2021, the ATC rejected Professor Ismail’s pre-arrest bail, and remanded him in the CTD’s custody. State authorities have also frozen the family’s bank accounts as well as the accounts of their NGOs and associated organizations which activists denounce as an underhanded tactic to pressure the Ismail’s into silence.

Despite national international outcry over this State-sponsored harassment and the manufactured silence surrounding their situation, Professor Ismail has now completed a month in confinement while any progress in his case has been effectively stalled.