Pakistani court grants bail to father of prominent activist

Muhammad Ismail, 66-year-old father of Gulalai Ismail, to be released after more than two months in jail.

Pakistan blasphemy
Muhammad Ismail faces charges of 'terrorism' and sharing 'anti-state' content on social media, accusations international rights groups say are 'harassment' [File: Muhammad Sajjad/AP]

Islamabad, Pakistan – A Pakistani court has granted bail to Muhammad Ismail, the father of a prominent Pakistani rights activist, who was arrested earlier this year on “terrorism” charges that local and international rights groups have condemned as being part of a campaign of “harassment”.

The court in the northwestern city of Peshawar granted bail to Ismail on Monday, and he was expected to be released a day later, his daughter Gulalai Ismail told Al Jazeera.

“My father was incarcerated to silence me and to punish him for his dissent,” she said. “However, the authorities must realise that oppression and judicial harassment only strengthen the dissenting voices.”

Gulalai Ismail is a prominent award-winning gender rights activist and is a leading member of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), a rights group that calls for accountability for alleged rights abuses committed by the Pakistani military and which has faced widespread restrictions for its work.

Gulalai was forced to flee the country due to a perceived threat to her life after security forces repeatedly raided her home in attempts to arrest her in 2019.

She has sought political asylum in the United States.

Shortly after her escape, Gulalai’s parents Muhammad Ismail, a 66-year-old retired Urdu professor and vocal activist against the Taliban, and Uzlifat Ismail, a 62-year-old housewife, saw terrorism financing charges lodged against them.

They are accused of financially aiding and facilitating the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) armed group in two attacks in Peshawar, one on a church in 2013 that killed more than 78 people and another on a Shia mosque in 2015 that killed more than 20 worshippers.

In July 2020, a similar case against them was dismissed over a lack of evidence by a court, but authorities refiled the charges and arrested Ismail in February this year.

The Ismail family denies all allegations.

‘Anti-state’ charges

Muhammad Ismail is also facing separate charges of sharing “anti-state” content on social media for expressing dissent against the country’s government and armed forces.

Rights groups say space for expressing dissent in Pakistan, particularly against the country’s powerful armed forces which have ruled the country for roughly half its 74-year history, has shrunk dramatically in recent years.

“The crackdown on the media, civil society and the political opposition intensified [in 2020],” reads the opening to United Kingdom-based rights group Amnesty International’s annual report chapter on Pakistan.

“Frequent enforced disappearances continued; nobody was held accountable.”

“Professor [Muhammad] Ismail’s bail is welcome news, especially in light of his ill health and weakened condition post his COVID diagnosis,” said Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia campaigner for Amnesty.

“However, the charges against him have not been dropped, which is of great concern as he remains at risk of imprisonment if convicted.”

Gulalai Ismail described her father’s health as “fragile”.

“My father’s bail is a relief, however, his health is fragile and even after the release he would have to attend the trial court dates on daily basis which will have a huge toll on his already deteriorating health.”

Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.

Source: Al Jazeera