A prominent Pakistani activist who fled into exile voiced fear on Wednesday for the life of her father, saying he was thrown back in jail in what she sees as retribution for her outspokenness.
Gulalai Ismail, who won international recognition for her campaigns for girls before falling afoul with authorities, said her father, who recently survived Covid-19, was denied bail on charges she says are trumped up.
“I managed to escape Pakistan and I think it has hurt the ego of the people who run the system very badly. Now they are taking revenge,” Ismail told AFP from New York, where she turned up in 2019 after months on the run.
“They have basically kept my parents as hostages to pressurize and blackmail me as since coming to the US I have not been silent on human rights,” she said.
During a previous jail stint shortly her escape, Ismail said her father was forced to sleep on the floor of a jail cell filled with some 60 people including drug addicts.
“His life is at risk and I am very afraid as a daughter that he will not survive this detention,” she said.
Mohammed Ismail, 65, is a retired professor who himself has a history of activism. He suffers kidney, heart and back problems and had only just tested negative for Covid-19 after a month of recovery, his daughter said.
Their mother, who also had Covid, was granted bail but their father was denied it during a hearing Tuesday, she said.
He was remanded to three days in custody but his daughter feared that the detention would be prolonged as lawyers will again need to apply for bail.
Her parents face terrorism charges on accusations they sent support including weapons to extremists who carried out a 2013 suicide attack on a church in Peshawar that killed 82 people, and an attack two years later on a Shiite mosque.
Gulalai Ismail’s sister, Saba, called the charges preposterous, saying her father was an outspoken opponent of extremists including the Taliban even before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Gulalai Ismail co-founded an organization in 2002 to promote gender equality in the deeply conservative northwestern district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, winning awards and being welcomed by former first lady Michelle Obama.
But she came under scrutiny when she began to speak of abuses in an army crackdown on Pashtun militants near the border with Afghanistan including what she said were forced disappearances and sexual assaults, with women too stigmatized to speak out.