Doctrinal Change? After Ali Wazir, ATC Also Acquits Prof Ismail

Doctrinal Change? After Ali Wazir, ATC Also Acquits Prof Ismail
MNA Ali Wazir was released from the Karachi central jail after imprisonment of two years, on Tuesday.

Wazir – a leader of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) – was sent behind bars on a host of sedition and anti-terror charges.

Scores of supporters of the activist welcomed him outside the prison with rose petals and chants of love and support.

Wazir’s current legal troubles began in 2020 after he delivered firebrand speeches, which was allegedly considered anti-state and seditious by the establishment. Ever since, he has sought bail no less than four charges of sedition and inciting rebellion under the Pakistan Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act. Wazir and his PTM has been a target of the state’s ire — for demanding accountability for excesses of the military operations in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Born in 1976 in South Waziristan, Ali Wazir is a vociferous advocate and campaigner for rights of the Pashtun people. Ali’s family, the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, has laid 18 men to rest since 2003 for their opposition to the Talibanisation of the erstwhile tribal areas, all of them brutally murdered by militants.

After having been elected to the National Assembly in 2018 from NA-50 as an independent candidate, he was thrust to political prominence for his leadership of the PTM.

The imprisonment of Ali Wazir was a microcosm of the state response to this rising Pashtun movement. The iron-fisted treatment stands in stark contrast to the leniency, tacit acceptance and clemency that the state security apparatus grants to extremist outfits it deems relevant to its strategic calculus. While the Supreme Court judges have questioned this contradiction, it did not manifest in his immediate release from prison.

His predicament was seen as a representative case of the security establishment’s selective and literalist application of anti-terror and sedition law in Pakistan.

For his unwavering commitment to the protection of human rights in the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas and courage in choosing imprisonment rather than kowtowing to the powers that be, The Friday Times announced Ali Wazir as its Person of the Year in 2022.


ATC Acquits Prof Ismail, Wife Uzilfat In Terror Case


Professor Muhammad Ismail, human rights activist and his wife Mrs. Uzlifat Ismail were acquitted by Peshawar anti-terrorism court in a case of terrorism, terror financing, sedition and conspiracy after a lengthy trial.

Tagging Pakistan’s foreign office and the permanent mission in Geneva, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor tweeted on Tuesday she will be “following closely” the verdict of human rights defender Professor Muhammad Ismail’s trial for a case on charges including sedition and terror financing, by a Peshawar court on February 15. The UN has previously declared that Professor Ismail was specifically targeted for his human rights work.


A former political worker of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), a college lecturer, an NGO founder and father of a prominent human rights defender, Professor Muhammad Ismail has been forcibly disappeared, arbitrarily arrested, jailed, tried for terrorism, sedition, conspiracy and terror financing, his home repeatedly raided, separated from his children, put on a no-fly list and muzzled non-stop for his political dissent, outspoken defense of human rights, standing up to a military dictator and criticizing the religious right.

Since 1978, he has been targeted during two military dictatorships — Generals Zia and Musharraf— and Imran Khan’s administration. Ismail’s daughter, internationally recognized human rights activist, had started supporting the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, and spoke in public about the allegations of sexual harassment by the armed forces in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Since 2018, Gulalai Ismail was put on an Exit Control List, arbitrarily detained, targeted and named in police cases on fabricated cases. She was unable to return home after an anti-terrorism case was filed against her on May 22, 2019. “We watched a news story that arrest warrants for Gulalai had been issued, and advised her to not come home,” Prof. Ismail told me. She was declared absconder. Eventually after months of going under-ground she fled for asylum and reached the US.

For the powers that be, the hounding of the daughter was incomplete without going after her family. At the height of repression Pakistani civil society and media were slapped with, on May 24, 2019 security forces carried out their first raid on the residence of human rights defender Professor Muhammad Ismail, and father of women’s rights activist and member of the National Democratic Movement, Gulalai Ismail. For over three years, the Ismail family has been judicially persecuted and harassed mercilessly by the state apparatus including the Islamabad and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police, Counter-Terrorism Department, the Federal Investigation Agency, unidentified men in plain clothes i.e the intelligence operatives and the courts of Peshawar.

The May 24 raid was one of many, and a beginning of a relentless witch hunt against the Ismail family. Men in plain clothes, uniforms of Islamabad police including women officers, and an armed man in a shirt with anti-terrorist squad printed on the back, police mobile and other cars can be seen in those two videos. Afterwards the series of surveillance intensified. Two raids were conducted on the in-laws of Prof. Ismail’s elder son and one at his cousin’s home in Peshawar. Once the CCTV footage of the May 24 raid was shared on social media, and the Ismail family began speaking of the raids in public. The authorities confiscated equipment for CCTV, and then over the years at least three laptops and many cell phones. “Those who raided our Islamabad house never identified their professional affiliation, but police did accompany them. They took away cell phones and CCTV systems. They were [definitely] not from FIA. When CTD raided our home in Marghuz, they confiscated two laptops from our house. When I was abducted from the Gate of PHC, I had a laptop and mobile, FIA took away both from me, they returned the damaged laptop, but not the mobile phone,” explained Professor Ismail.

What followed in May 2019 was also a separation of the family. Their younger daughter was forced to flee and discontinue her studies in Pakistan. Now the family has been living between three countries, and the ailing couple is unable to reunite with their children. When Professor Ismail’s wife Mrs. Uzlifat went to get her passport renewed, the couple were told of their names having been placed on the Exit Control List in October 2019. Eventually she received a government notification. The harassment of the Ismail family has been systemic and carried out methodically. Professor Ismail was forcibly disappeared for a few hours when he filed a petition to quash this case in October 2019. He was presented before the court, given bail, then denied bail in November and detained for a month. The couple were named in the terror financing case with their daughter in 2020.

In 2021, Professor Ismail was arrested for two months. “I have tried to note down the number of my appearances in various courts. In the ATC-1 of Peshawar, I have appeared 167 times, and appeared in ATC-2 for dozens of times. I have also appeared for the petition of PECA FIR against me each month before the PHC, but every time I am told the case is leftover” shared the professor.

After an accident on the Motorway, on their way to Peshawar from Islamabad, the professor decided to move to his hometown Swabi in 2021. The accident appeared deliberate to the couple, and to mitigate risks they began taking public transport for months to the court. The physical surveillance of the Ismail family, according to them, only stopped after release from Professor Ismail’s second release in April. However, the toll of the judicial persecution on the family’s financial condition and health of the senior couple has been immense.

Professor Ismail was imprisoned for a month in Haripur for wall chalking against General Zia as a student in 1978, for month in the mid 80s as a DSF (Democratic Students Federation) activist, charged with insult to religion by Islamist politicians in KP, and in the early aughts for trumped up corruption charges against his NGO —a case which was closed eventually. But he states that the hybrid regime of 2018 onwards was unlike what he experienced before. “Imran Khan government was shameless, for they lied continuously during my case. In the ATC, a man was produced who said he was from Jaish-e-Muhammad and claimed I had given him funds. Another claimed he sold us, my wife and I, weapons, and one supposed rickshaw driver claimed we helped Afghan citizens buy weapons from Darra Adam Khel,” he told The Friday Times. Professor Ismail claims police placed false evidence of his purchase of the car which was used to carry out bombing of the Peshawar All Saints Church. His academic research into progressive Urdu literature from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a copy of George Orwell’s 1984 has been used against him during the trial.

The targeting of Professor Ismail and his family is emblematic of how the state has attacked its progressives, critics of the military establishment and defenders of human dignity, specifically those from ethnicities other than the majoritarian group. What it also establishes is the degree to which the judiciary has been complicit in shutting down the movement for human rights. As the on-going trial on trumped-up charges comes to an end for the professor and he awaits a final verdict, another sword to keep him in check hangs on his head. In January 2023, he was indicted in the pending case of PECA from 2019. The next hearing will be in March. He was sick with Covid when that case was put on hold by the Peshawar High Court.

“I consider myself a subject of the state of Pakistan, not its citizens with equal rights. The judiciary is so compromised it has refused to give me any relief for years,” said the Professor.


Professor Ismail Explains Entire Story 


Professor Ismail explained the entire story to Naya Daur TV in 2020, from where it began to why he and his family are under pressure from certain elements.

He started from the very beginning, when her daughter, Gulalai Ismail, a renowned human rights activist, was getting fame and appreciation for her social work at the national and international level. He said that she received a number of awards, including the Pride of Pakistan and Common Wealth awards. She also got appreciation certificates from then-prime minister Imran Khan and then-chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pervez Khatak for her social activism, he added.

He went on to say that she was a member of various government committees that worked for people's development and rights. Unfortunately, she joined the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) and conducted interviews with girls who told her that they were facing sexual harassment.

Later, when she spoke at a Conservative Party conference in the United Kingdom, she effectively raised the issue and brought it to everyone's attention, he said. When Gulalai returned to Pakistan after attending that conference, she was arrested at the airport by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), he added.

He said that we got her bail from the court. But soon she was booked in another case in Swabi. He said he fought a legal war and got her daughter acquitted in that case too.

Professor Ismail recalled that once Gulalai was staging a protest demonstration in front of the National Press Club (Islamabad) along with approximately 80 young people when they were all arrested by police. 70 of them were released right on the spot after they apologised for their participation, and 10 were shifted to Adiala Jail, he said. But they vanished Gulalai and she was recovered after 36 hours by the intervention of then-prime minister Imran Khan and then-human rights minister Shireen Mazari.

He further said that a minor Pakhtoon girl (belonged to the internally displaced people) was raped and murdered. When the guardians approached the police to get their complaint registered, they were ridiculed badly. The father and brother of the deceased were forced to clean the floor of the police station, and even after that, the FIR was not lodged.

Professor Ismail said that Gulalai staged a protest demonstration against that brutality and injustice, after which he and his family faced severe backlash. Multiple cases of sedition were filed against Gulalai, which compelled her to leave for the United States.

He also shared that after her exile, the FIA anti-terrorism unit accused her of terror financing and started conducting raids at his residence. He said that during the raid, the personnel of law enforcement agencies took their mobile phones, laptops, and recordings from CCTV cameras with them. He added that his driver was also picked up by law enforcement agencies, and he was forced to turn spy against him and his family.

Professor Ismail said that one media person, who was in direct contact with Gulali, was picked up from Lahore and physically tortured for a week. The law enforcement agencies gave him a 30-day period to reveal everything about Gulalai, but he managed to escape to America as he already had a US visa.

He also shared that when Gulalai held a joint press conference with former United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon on that day, four army vehicles remained parked around his home to build pressure on him.

"Soon after that, an FIR was filed against me, my wife, and my daughter Gulalai on charges of funding PTM," he said. "When I challenged the FIR in court, the judge dismissed the case and stated in the verdict that the authorities were just levelling accusations and they failed to present any evidence," he added.

He further said, "When all tactics plotted against me and my family failed, a new approach was adopted to grab us by getting a confession statement from terrorists that we sold a car to them."

He said, on October  2019, he was arrested outside the court; luckily, the media was there, and it got reported. He was sent to Peshawar jail on charges of cybercrime. "Upon which the US embassy, the US State Department, US senators, and human rights organisations raised concern," he added.

Professor Ismail stated that his wife was once directed to submit tax documents for the previous seven years, despite the fact that she is not a working woman.

He said that he was vocal against the Taliban during the tenure of Musharraf, and for that reason he was jailed in Bannu. But now I am accused of being a friend of the Taliban: "Who gave shelter to TTP former spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan?" "Who managed his escape?" he questioned. He further questioned who raised Osama bin Laden.

He stated that those who talk about the rule of law and the Constitution get sedition cases in return.

In response to a question, he said he is not anti-state; in fact, he is just vocal against violations of the law and violations of human rights.