Rights activist’s detention

Updated January 22, 2020

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IT is inexplicable how the state appears discomfited by human rights activists. After all, they ask for nothing more than what the Constitution guarantees — rights to security of person, due process, freedom of speech, etc. So what can explain the humiliating treatment meted out to human rights activist Jalila Haider at the Lahore airport on Monday?

Ms Haider was travelling to the UK to participate in a women’s coalition conference when she was detained for seven hours by the FIA who told her she had to wait for some individuals who "were coming with documents on" her. That visit never materialised — possibly because the negative publicity prompted a rethink. Her travel documents were then returned to her, with permission to board the next flight to her intended destination.

Ms Haider is the first female lawyer from Balochistan’s Hazara community, a Shia ethnic group which has suffered horrendous levels of sectarian violence over the years.

The courageous and outspoken young advocate, who works for the rights of vulnerable women and children, came to public attention when she went on a hunger strike in 2018 to protest against the targeted killings of Hazaras in Quetta. In 2019, her activism earned her a place among the BBC’s list of 100 most inspiring and influential women around the world.

Perversely, her achievements seem to have kindled the suspicions of ever-sensitive state functionaries. Are we to assume that raising a voice for those who have been denied their rights is a subversive activity?

Whoever is responsible for the disservice to the country’s global image on account of the recent episode must be held accountable.

The increasing tendency to detain people on the basis of a ‘black list’ which has no basis in law — or to place them on the ECL without following the prescribed procedure — also demands the government’s attention. Such methods of state oppression are employed in countries where the right to due process holds no meaning. We should steer clear of that disreputable club of nations.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2020