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UA 148/19
Abgeschlossen am 3. Dezember 2019

Professor facing prison on trumped up charges

AI-Index: ASA 33/1348/2019

Professor Muhammad Ismail, a prisoner of conscience charged with «hate speech» and «cyber terrorism», was denied bail on 4 November. If convicted, he will face up to seven years in prison. A vocal critic of the country’s armed forces and their treatment of his daughter, woman human rights defender Gulalai Ismail, he is also facing trumped up charges under Pakistan’s draconian anti-terror laws. The Ismail family has endured invasive surveillance, threats and intimidation since May 2019 – with their home raided multiple times. Detained solely for peacefully exercising his human right to freedom of expression, Professor Ismail must be immediately and unconditionally released.

Additional information

Gulalai Ismail, the daughter of Professor Muhammad Ismail, is a well-known human rights defender, recognized for her women’s rights advocacy. She is the 2017 winner of Anna Politkovskaya award and the chair of Aware Girls. Gulalai is also an outspoken supporter of Pakistan’s Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, a peaceful movement that campaigns against extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations suffered by Pakistan’s Pashtun population.

Gulalai Ismail was charged with «sedition», «terrorism» and «defamation» for a speech made at a protest on 22 May 2019 after which she was forced into hiding on 23 May 2019. As a result, her family home was raided multiple times, and men in plain clothes from the country’s security agencies confiscated their devices. The Ismail family has remained under constant and invasive surveillance for months.

The threats and intimidation tactics intensified after Gulalai applied for political asylum in the USA. Professor Muhammad Ismail had a First Investigative Report (FIR) registered against him, along with his wife and daughter, on 12 July 2019, accusing them of taking funding from «foreign countries», aiding «terrorist organizations» and working for them under the guise of their social work.

While on bail before arrest in this case, Professor Ismail petitioned the Peshawar High Court to quash this charge. On 24 October, when he was due to appear for the hearing of this petition, that he was abducted by unidentified men outside the court. His family was only informed of his whereabouts later that night by local civil society activists that he was in custody of the Cyber Crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency in Peshawar. The official confirmation of his arrest only came on 25 October, when he was produced at a special court of Peshawar and charged with hate speech and spreading «fake information» against the government’s institutions under the draconian Pakistan’s Electronic Crimes Act for statuses he has uploaded on his personal social media pages.

Professor Ismail is suffering from multiple health problems and his detention will likely exacerbate them.

Freedom of expression, assembly and association have come under attack in Pakistan in recent years. Human rights defenders and journalists face restrictions in both online and offline spaces. The clampdown on civic space has intensified in 2019, through draconian laws that enable violations of human rights.

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