Parents of human rights activist acquitted in sedition case – 16 Feb 2023

PESHAWAR: An anti-terrorism court here on Wednesday acquitted parents of civil society activist Gulalai Ismail, charged by the counter-terrorism department of sedition, conspiring against the state, terror financing and facilitating.

ATC Judge Fazal Sattar ruled that the prosecution failed to prove its case against Prof Mohammad Ismail and his wife Uzlifat Ismail. The court also declared Gulalai Ismail, who is prime accused in the case, as proclaimed offender and issued her perpetual arrest warrants.

Soon after the verdict was pronounced, Gulalai tweeted that her parents were acquitted after more than three years of harassment and innumerable court appearances. `I am thankful to those, who stood with us during this difficulttime,` she said.

In July 2019, the ATC had declined to indict Prof Ismail, who is also a social activist and member of Pakistan NGOs Forum, and his spouse on basis of interim challan (charge sheet). The court had pronounced that as no evidence was produced by the prosecution, therefore, charge could not be framed against the accused persons and they were discharged under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).

Subsequently, the CTD submitted complete challan wherein it had produced certain documents, claiming that the accused provided weapons and a motorcar to terrorists that were used in terrorist attacks on All Saints Church in 2013 and Imamia Mosque, Hayatabad, in 2015.

The court had indicted the two accused on multiple charges on September 30, 2020, including sedition, waging war against the state, facilitating attacks on All Saints Church and Imamia Mosque, etc.

Initially, the CTD had registered an FIR on July 6, 2019, under section 11-N of Anti-Terrorism Act wherein it had charged Gulalai Ismail and her parents of being sympathisers of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM).

Later on, several other provisions of Pakistan Penal Code and Anti-Terrorism Act were included in the FIR including section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 124-A (sedition).

It was alleged by the complainant, Inspector Mohammad Ilyas of CTD, said that Gulalai Ismail was chairperson of organisations Aware Girls and SeedsforPeace andin the garb of those organisations she had been working for anti-state elements and also financing terrorist organisations. The CTD had alleged that she had also opened bank accounts in the names of her parents for purpose of terror financing.

Senior counsel Shabbir Hussain Gigyani appeared for the defence and contended that his clients were implicated in a fake case to victimise them. He argued that they had been confronted with frivolous and baseless charges and the evidence on record clearly proved that it was a cooked up case.He said that his clients were earlier discharged in the present case and later on the CTD manufactured fake evidence to further victimise them.

Regarding the NGOs of Gulalai, he argued that till date no objection, complaint or observation had been placed on the said organisations by the licensing authority nor the authority had cancelled their licences on ground of any illegal activity.

Moreover, Mr Gigyani said that the relevant bank managers had admitted that not a single transaction of any of the bank accounts mentioned by the CTD had been detected or declared as abnormal or illegal by the State Bank of Pakistan.

About the audio/video recordings produced by the prosecution in support of its charges of sedition, he said that the same pertained to the absconding coaccused Gulalai and on the basis of the same two FIRs were already registered in Islamabad against her due to which the jurisdiction of the Peshawar CTD as well as the court were ousted.

He contended that the inves-tigating officer admitted that it was not evident in which part of the world the audio/video were recorded.

Following his acquittal, Prof Ismail tweeted: `Me and my family are thankful to national and international media, national and international human rights organisations, United Nations Human Rights Commission, European Union and US State Department, who raised voices for us.

He has now been facing trial before the Peshawar district and sessions judge in another case registered against him by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in 2019, accusing him of cyber terrorism and hate speech.

It is worth mentioning that Gulalai Ismail had gone into hiding in May 2019 when a case was registered against her in Islamabad for allegedly defaming state institutions and inciting violence through her speech, which she had delivered at a protest demonstration held against killing and sexual abuse of a minor girl Fareshta.

Subsequently, she surfaced in the US in September 2019.

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