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9 September 2022

Joint Statement - Pakistan: Government has failed to comply with UN Working Group findings to end persecution of Muhammad Ismail and family

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and Front Line Defenders, call on the Pakistan government to immediately comply with recommendations of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on the case of human rights defender Muhammad Ismail and put an end to all acts of harassment against him and his family.

One year ago, the UN WGAD found the arrest and detention of Muhammad Ismail arbitrary. The UN Working Group, in its opinion adopted in September 2021, concluded that Muhammad Ismail was targeted for his human rights work and that his detention was in contravention of international human rights standards, particularly the Universal Human Rights Declaration (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which Pakistan is a state party.

Muhammad Ismail, a Pakistani human rights defender and the father of women’s human rights defender Gulalai Ismail, has been subject to judicial harassment since 2019. Muhammad Ismail has been targeted due to his own work and the human rights work of his daughter, Gulalai Ismail, who was forced to flee Pakistan in 2019, fearing serious risks to her life. He is facing allegations of cybercrime for speaking against government institutions. He has also been accused of fabricated charges related to sedition and conspiracy, as well as under the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) for allegedly financing terrorism, publishing and disseminating anti-State material and aiding and abetting terrorist offences.

One year on from the issuing of the opinion of the UN Working Group, the authorities have continued to ignore its findings and persecute Muhammad Ismail in the courts on trumped up charges. Further, his hearings have faced frequent delays and adjournments causing him tremendous hardship. We urge the government to drop all charges and put a stop to the repression he is facing.

Among the key findings of the UN WGAD was that the arrest and detention of Muhammad Ismail was arbitrary, falling within categories I (without sufficient legal basis), II (for exercising his rights guaranteed under the ICCPR), III (being denied of his right to fair trial), and V (for his work as human rights defender and his relation to his daughter, Gulalai Ismail).

The UN Working Group found that he was subjected to enforced disappearance and his right to challenge the legality of his detention under article 9(3) and (4) of the ICCPR, as well as his right to an effective remedy under article 8 of the UDHR and article 2(3) of the Covenant, were violated. Further his pre-trial detention for over two months (2 February to 15 April 2021) was not properly constituted and thus had no legal basis. 

The body also stated that his conduct falls within the right to freedom of opinion and expression protected under Article 19 of the UDHR and Article 19 of the ICCPR; that he has been denied his right to a fair trial without undue delay and he was detained on discriminatory grounds, that is, on the basis of his status as a human rights defender, his political or other opinion, and his birth and family ties, contrary to articles 2 and 7 of the UDHR and articles 2(1) and 26 of the ICCPR.

In the report, the UN WGAD also noted with concern the charges reportedly brought against Muhammad Ismail’s spouse Uzlifat Ismail, as well as actions taken against Gulalai Ismail for her advocacy in support of the Pashtun community. It recommended that the government of Pakistan conduct a full and independent investigation on the arbitrary detention of Muhammad Ismail and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of his rights. The UN WGAD also called on the government to provide a remedy immediately.

Human rights defenders in Pakistan should not be harassed and intimidated for doing their work and exercising their fundamental freedoms. We urge the Shehbaz Sharif government that has committed to ensuring freedom of speech to take immediate steps to implement the recommendations of the UN Working Group without delay.

Muhammad Ismail is one of the faces of CIVICUS’s international #StandAsMyWitness campaign, calling for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders across the world.