Activist Gulalai Ismail 'escapes' to New York, applies for political asylum

Published September 19, 2019
Gulalai Ismail delivers an acceptance speech after being awarded the Prize for Conflict Prevention in Paris, November, 2016. ─ Reuters/File
Gulalai Ismail delivers an acceptance speech after being awarded the Prize for Conflict Prevention in Paris, November, 2016. ─ Reuters/File

Rights activist Gulalai Ismail escaped Pakistani authorities last month and has reached the United States, where she has applied for political asylum, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The US publication said that the 32-year-old is currently residing with her sister in Brooklyn, New York.

She has not disclosed how she managed to leave the country. All she revealed was: “I didn’t fly out of any airport.”

“I can’t tell you any more,” NYT quoted her as saying during an interview. “My exit story will put many lives at risk.”

According to NYT, no government officials were willing to make a public comment on the matter. Security officials said that they had suspected Ismail had left the country.

In November last year, the Islamabad High Court was informed that Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had recommended putting Ismail’s name on the Exit Control List (ECL) for her alleged anti-state activities abroad.

Following a petition by Ismail challenging the government’s decision to put her name on the ECL, the Islamabad High Court had ordered the removal of her name from the list.

The court, however, had allowed the interior ministry to take appropriate action, including confiscation of her passport, in the light of recommendations made by ISI.

According to the NYT report, Ismail had remained a fugitive since late May. "Security services were searching for her in every corner of the country, raiding her friends’ houses and closing in on her family," it said.

The report added that Ismail is still worried about her parents in Islamabad "who face charges of financing terrorism and remain under heavy surveillance".

In recent days, she has reportedly met with various "human rights defenders" in the US and staffs of congressional leaders.

“I will do everything I can to support Gulalai’s asylum request,” said Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Democrat Party in New York. “It is clear that her life would be in danger if she were to return to Pakistan.”

Ismail has launched a research and advocacy group called Voices for Peace and Democracy aimed at protecting women in the conflict-hit zones of the world. "She is also thinking of law school," reported NYT.

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