A human rights activist & journalist, he was in danger in Pakistan
London, UK – 29 April 2019
One of the many refugees the Peter Tatchell Foundation has helped secure asylum is Azam* from Pakistan. He was a human rights defender and journalist in Pakistan. The Pakistani military and security services target individuals who advocate for liberal values and human rights. In the past five years, twenty-six journalists have been killed in Pakistan.
This is Azam’s story in his own words:
I am a journalist and human rights defender from Pakistan and I have been reporting on the persecution faced by religious and ethnic minorities. My work has focused especially on security agencies role in extrajudicial crimes like disappearances and killings in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and the patronage of extremists like the Taliban by the all-powerful Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI.
Pakistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. One of the most sensitive areas is working on blasphemy law and even more so on disappearances, as it directly implicates the security agencies. I was determined to work on this, as silence would only make the situation worse.
I paid the price by being detained and interrogated many times and faced regular harassment at check posts. I was threatened directly and often – told to stop my work or face death. My family has also been approached many times, being threatened with dire consequences if I did not halt my work.
I was working on a project in the UK for a year and during this time the situation in Pakistan for journalists got worse. My friends started advising me not to return to Pakistan. Obviously, this decision was a big one that would change my life, so I was initially reluctant, as well as being very confused. Also, the UK asylum seeking process has been made so difficult and scary, making the issues I faced much more difficult.
In this confusion I reached out to the Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF). I had absolutely no idea how to go about claiming asylum but the PTF connected me with relevant legal firms who helped me. The PTF was there during this long asylum-seeking process and advised me how to prepare my case. Emotional support was extremely important as the process is extremely stressful. I always felt that if things were to go wrong, I could count on the support of Pliny, Peter and the PTF.
After a few months of preparing my case I was called by the Home Office for the substantive interview. This is a gruelling six to seven hours of questioning and evidence checking – very stressful. Luckily, my case was well prepared and I was granted asylum. It was helpful to have a supporting statement from the Peter Tatchell Foundation that included the current situation in Pakistan and details of my work. Being away from one’s home is extremely painful, but at least now I won’t be killed or tortured for telling the truth.
Now that my mind is at peace, I can start working again without any fear of torture or being killed. Now I can write freely about the horrors faced by persecuted people in Pakistan.
* Azam is a pseudonym to protect his family from retaliation by the Pakistani military and security services.