WASHINGTON: Washington said it was "concerned" late on Thursday by reports that the father of a Pakistani activist who fled the country has himself been detained, the latest incident to fuel fears of a clampdown on dissent.
Alice Wells, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, tweeted her concern over "reports of the continued harassment of Gulalai Ismail's family, and her father's detention today". She said the US called on Pakistan to "uphold citizens' rights to peaceful assembly, expression, and due process".
We are concerned by reports of the continued harassment of Gulalai Ismail’s family, and her father’s detention today. We encourage Pakistan to uphold citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly, expression, and due process. AGW— State_SCA (@State_SCA) October 24, 2019
Wells tweeted after Ismail, a women's rights activist who fled to the US and is seeking asylum, said her father Mohammad Ismail had been taken away by unknown men earlier Thursday outside a court in Peshawar, a western city near the border with Afghanistan.
Rabia Mehmood, a Pakistan researcher for Amnesty International, tweeted that he was in the custody of the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). His lawyers "do not know" what he has been charged with, she added.
The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called for his release. Pakistani officials did not give any immediate comment. Gulalai Ismail is an international award-winning activist who has championed the rights of Pakistani girls in a deeply patriarchal country.
On Oct 16, Prof Ismail & Mrs Uzlifat Ismail were told by passport authorities in Islamabad that there names were on ECL. They've continuously been harassed by the law enforcement agencies since May 25 through late night raided, surveillance and false cases.— Rabia Mehmood - رابعہ (@Rabail26) October 24, 2019
Then she began speaking out against sexual violence and disappearances allegedly carried out by the army in northwestern Pakistan -- a red line for the powerful security establishment which has run the country for much of its history.
Fearing for her life, she went on the run for four months before turning up in the US in September. She told AFP during an interview in Washington last month that she fears for her parents, saying they have become socially isolated, with security forces interrogating anyone who so much as texts them.
Mehmood tweeted that the couple had "continuously been harassed by the law enforcement agencies" through late night raids, surveillance and false cases.
A witness told Ismail her father was "was dragged into the vehicle while being physically tortured & abused", she tweeted. "I knew they wouldn't spare me... but I hadn't imagined them persecuting my elderly parents," she added later.
Rights watchdogs have long warned of a shrinking space for dissent in Pakistan, one of the most dangerous places in the world for activists and journalists. They can face abductions, torture, even killings if they cross red lines that a journalism watchdog last year said had been "quietly, but effectively" set by the army.