The conflict between the PPP and Pakistan-based American blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie intensified on Friday after the latter came out with allegations of rape and assault against some top PPP leaders.
Ritchie, who was at the centre of a controversy last week when she tweeted what the PPP described as "derogatory and slanderous remarks" about slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, accused former interior minister Senator Rehman Malik of having raped her in Islamabad in 2011 — a charge the senior PPP leader has strongly denied.
"In 2011, I was raped by the former interior minister Rehman Malik. That's right, I'll say it again. I was raped by the then interior minister Rehman Malik," she said a live video on her Facebook page, also accusing former federal minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin and ex-prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani of "physically manhandling" her while Gilani was staying at the "President's House".
Gilani also denied the allegations in a statement and later said he would file a defamation suit against Ritchie.
Ritchie said she was reserving "some of the more graphic details" because her audience could include children, but added that she would be "happy to go into more detail" with neutral investigative journalists.
The blogger has nearly 220,000 followers on Twitter and a hashtag championing her as a "pride of Pakistan" (#CynthiaIsPrideOfPakistan) was the top trend on Friday evening.
In a tweet before going live on Facebook, the American alleged members of "#ZardarisFilthyPPP" were threatening her because "they know that over the years I have been raped/assaulted by men in the highest ranks of PPP. They don't want the world to know."
In another post after her allegations, she said the alleged assault took place at Malik's house in the Ministers' Enclave around the time of the raid in which Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed. "I thought it [was] a meeting about my visa but I was given flowers/a drugged drink," she wrote, adding claiming she "kept quiet" thinking no one in the then PPP government would help her.
"Recently they (PPP members) attacked family; I've had it. Ready to face any accuser," she said, adding that she is now engaged to a man whom she met in Pakistan, and it was him who encouraged her "to speak out, so we can move on as a couple".
In her video, Ritchie alleged that she has endured harassment "primarily from the PPP" for a number of years now. "I have received countless threats against my life, rape threats, claims that PPP has my father," she claimed, adding that she has "evidentiary support" of everything she has been posting.
Ritchie also said she had informed about the incident to "someone" at the US Embassy in 2011, "but due to 'fluid' situation and 'complex' relations between US and Pakistan, [the] response was less than adequate".
Dawn has reached out to the embassy to verify the veracity of her statement.
Last week, the PPP had filed a complaint with the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cyber Crime Wing against Ritchie for posting on her Twitter account what it described as derogatory and slanderous remarks about Benazir Bhutto. The complaint was filed by PPP’s district president in Islamabad Advocate Shakeel Abbasi.
Detailing her time in Pakistan, Ritchie said she has been "in and out" of the country since 2009. "I shifted here end of 2010 and I was invited here by the PPP when [Asif Ali] Zardari was president, PM Gilani, interior minister Rehman Malik and the federal minister at the time Makhdoom Shahabuddin.
"Initially things were quite pleasant. I was very well-facilitated; I had no idea of the political battle that was taking place or had been taking place between PTI, PPP, PML-N etc.," she said.
She continued: "Because I had been assisting [the] PTI gratis, on my own time, with their social media strategies back in late 2010-2011, I learnt eventually that PPP was trying to draw me away from PTI."
"PPP, you've attacked me for too long," the blogger said while addressing the party leadership. "You've created false accounts trying to research my family, getting information from my sisters who naively had no idea who they were talking to and then leaking deeply personal family information on Twitter.
"You think I don't have contacts in the United States, you think I don't have contacts here or elsewhere to be able to track and trace what you were doing. For those who've called me a bitch because I have dared to stand up to you, you haven't seen nothing yet," she concluded.
Soon after, former premier Gilani not only denied the charges levelled by Ritchie, but said that he even considered responding to such allegations a "humiliation and disgrace".
Talking to ARY News, he questioned as to what Richie was doing at the Presidency when she was allegedly manhandled, and why she had been staying in Pakistan. He alleged that she had come to Pakistan as part of a campaign to malign politicians.
"Who has given them the right to malign politicians?" he asked.
Gilani said those raising such allegations "should be ashamed" and asked whether a person of the prime minister's stature could do such an act at the Presidency.
The former prime minister claimed that Ritchie was maligning him because his two sons had filed a defamation case against her for her allegedly defamatory tweet against Bhutto.
In a statement on Saturday, Gilani announced that he would be filing a defamation case against Ritchie, saying that she had "violated my respect by making such unfounded allegations".
He added that he had "never even met" the blogger when he was the premier. "If she was part of a delegation I don't know but my only meeting with her was in 2019 at a diplomat's house in Islamabad. Jalil Abbas Gilani and other party leaders were also present during that meeting," he said.
Meanwhile, Gilani's son Ali Haider Gilani in a series of tweets defended his father as a "man of great integrity" and questioned why Ritchie was making the "filthy" allegations after eight years.
Senator Rehman Malik on Saturday endorsed Gilani's statement of denial and a spokesperson for the senator said that "he [Malik] does not want to respond directly, but denies the allegations".
"The allegations are untruthful and have been made to harm Senator Rehman Malik's reputation.
"The American woman has made the allegations at the behest of a specific person or group."
He further said that as Malik "respects Ritchie and all women, he would not respond to the allegations with any foul words."
According to the spokesperson, Malik has always "raised a voice for the rights and honour of women and he will continue to do so."
The spokesperson pointed out that the allegations have come at a time when "Malik, as the chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, took notice of Ritchie's tweet against Shaheed Mauhtarma Benazir Bhutto."
He said Malik's sons have independently contacted their lawyers to see what legal action can be taken against Ritchie.
Makhdoom Shahabuddin also rejected the allegations of manhandling Ritchie, terming them "concocted" and "baseless".
"Cynthia Ritchie is levelling these baseless allegations for the sake of cheap fame," he alleged in a statement, saying he "could not even think of" manhandling or beating up a woman.
He also asked why Ritchie had "remained silent" for 20 years and only spoke up now.