Prominent activist Gulalai Ishmail had been on the run from Pakistani authorities for months before reaching the United States by way of Sri Lanka, where Pakistani citizens do not need a visa. Ismail, 33, already had a multi-entry visa to the United States, and was able to flee to her sister’s home in Brooklyn, NY where she can apply for political asylum in safety.
Not only has she been prominent in the Pashtun Protection Movement, a group that denounces the Pakistani military, but she has also specifically highlighted how the military and security forces target and terrorize women. She has talked about incidences of rape, disappearances, and other brutal acts. Ishmail has been vocal about feminist issues in Pakistan since she was sixteen, when she began speaking out against gender-based violence in her country, particularly honor killings and forced marriages.
Last November, Ishmail had been detained at the airport in Islamabad and had her passport taken away from her. She was also placed on an Exit Control list that prohibited her from leaving the country due to a speech she gave at a rally that was critical of the Pakistani government and military forces.
In May, she received a call from a friend saying that the media was reporting that the military was going to raid her home and arrest her for treason. She quickly fled her home without a phone or any other traceable devices and inconspicuously hid in the homes of close friends for months until she was able to escape the country. Even though she has escaped to the United States, she still worries for her own safety, as well as the safety of her parents and loved ones back home in Pakistan. “When I left, I knew this was a one-way trip,” she stated. “And as I was leaving, I bent down and touched the soil, and told myself, ‘This is where I belong, this is my country.’”
Sources: NYT 9/19/19; Radio Free Europe 9/19/19