Dissident Pakistani exiles in United Kingdom warned of threat to life
London/New Delhi/UNI: Dissident Pakistani exiles living in London, who have criticized the country’s all-powerful military, have been warned that their lives are in danger, a media report said.
UK daily The Guardian said that British security sources are concerned that Pakistani dissidents, including bloggers, rights activists from Balochistan, journalists and members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, representing ethnic Pashtuns, face danger to their lives.
It said that “further warnings have been given by other intelligence services across Europe to Pakistani dissidents”.
It said last month, a Pakistani national from east London was charged with conspiring with others unknown to murder an exiled Pakistani blogger and political activist, Ahmad Waqass Goraya in the Netherlands.
Co-author of the news report, Kiyya Baloch, said in a tweet that in the report, “we looked at how Pakistani authorities are seeking to silence critics based in Europe. Several critics of Pakistan’s security establishment are under target for condemning the army’s interference in politics and support for some militant groups.”
Another dissident tweeted on how prominent Pakistani journalist Taha Siddiqui, who escaped abduction in Islamabad in 2018 and lives in Paris, said his family and partner’s family had been repeatedly harassed in Pakistan.
The report quoted Mark Lyall Grant, former High Commissioner to Pakistan, as saying that this would be taken up very seriously by the British government.
Grant, the UK’s former National Security Adviser, said that any evidence that officers from Pakistan’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) were intimidating people in the UK would not be ignored.
The report said that since Imran Khan came to power in 2018 with the backing of the military, civil rights groups there have documented an erosion of press freedom with rising violent attacks on journalists.
It quoted Ayesha Siddiqa, a Pakistani political scientist and commentator based in London, as saying that she had received a “threat to life” notice – known as an Osman warning – from the Metropolitan police.
Gul Bukhari, a British-Pakistani YouTuber who has openly criticized the military, fled to the UK after being abducted by security forces in Lahore in 2018. “I feel threatened in London,” she said.
Ayesha Siddiqa is among others who have been given safety guidance by the UK police.
The report said fears among the Pakistani dissident community has been running high following the mysterious deaths of two dissidents last year.
Journalist Sajid Hussain, known for covering human rights violations in Pakistan, disappeared in March 2020 in Uppsala, Sweden, and was found dead in a river two months later.
His friend Karima Baloch, who campaigned for an independent Balochistan, was found dead in a lake in Toronto, Canada, seven months later.
According to Siddiqa, the Pakistani community in Britain is “very infiltrated” by people loyal to the military.
The report quoted the Committee to Protect Journalists as saying it is very concerned about the surveillance of exiled Pakistani journalists. “We are aware of a number of cases that have not been made public. It’s widely understood that these types of threats could only come from Pakistan’s military or intelligence service,” CPJ’s Steven Butler was quoted as saying.
In Germany, Abdullah Abbas, of the Human Rights Council of Balochistan, said the deaths of Hussain and Karima Baloch had prompted him to keep his head down. “It has revived my old fears of being disappeared or killed, even in Europe.” He said he is frightened to walk alone in Berlin.
It quoted Aurang Zeb Khan Zalmay, the exiled editor of the Pashtun Times, an online portal highlighting human rights abuses in Pakistan’s north-western tribal areas, saying he was under surveillance by intelligence officials.
In Islamabad on Saturday, two senior Pakistani journalists critical of the government were picked up from their homes in Lahore by the cyber wing of the country’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).
The two journalists Amir Mir, the brother of well known Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir, and Syed Imran Shafqat, a vlogger, were released following a storm of protests and criticism on social media.
In June this year, Hamid Mir’s highly rated political talk show on Geo TV was taken off the air for his criticism of the Imran Khan government.
Both Amir Mir and Imran Shafqat were publishing reports on YouTube that were critical of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government, that is backed by the military.