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Famous Pakistani Rights Defender Detained for Hours

FILE - Pakistani lawyer Jalila Haider, center, from the Hazara Shi'ite minority community participates in a hunger strike with others at a camp in Quetta, Apr. 30, 2018.

Authorities in Pakistan detained a human rights defender for seven hours at an airport as she tried to take a flight from Pakistan’s second largest city Lahore to the United Kingdom.

Activist and human rights lawyer Jalila Haider was on her way to attend a workshop on feminism in the University of Sussex when she was told that her name was on a no-fly list for alleged “anti-state activities.”

After waiting for hours for someone to question her, she was handed her passport back and told that she was free to take the next flight to UK.

"So, her name is obviously not on Exit Control List [a no-fly list] and there is obviously no legal basis for her detention. So, this just seems like harassment,” her attorney Asad Jamal told VOA.

Sources in the Federal Investigation Agency, the outfit that detained Haider, upon condition of anonymity, said that Haider was released on the orders of Shahzad Akbar, special assistant to the prime minister on accountability and Interior Ministry.

"You can stop Jalila Haider from traveling abroad because her name is in ECL, but you cannot detain her,” Akbar said according to these FIA sources.

Haider said she spent the seven hours in mental torture.

"I was so embarrassed. Everyone was looking at me like I was smuggling drugs as I was pulled aside and made to sit,” she told BBC’s Urdu service.

Still, she appreciated the attitude of the FIA officials who held her saying they treated her nicely and offered her refreshments while she waited.

Haider said any plans to fly to U.K. had to wait until after she had met her worried mother and found out for sure whether her name was on the list or not.

Her attorney, Asad Jamal, said detaining her without cause was illegal and denying her access to attorney during this time unconstitutional.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent, non-profit body, criticized the action in a tweet.

"We condemn this ill-conceived action because it simply continues the pattern of arbitrarily targeting the freedom of movement of human rights defenders and journalists without cause. #JalilaHaider,” the commission said.

On Twitter, hashtage #IstandWithJalila started trending in Pakistan as news of her detention spread.

Haider, the founder of a non-profit called We the Humans that works with vulnerable local communities became the first female lawyer from Pakistan’s persecuted Hazara community, a sub-sect of Shi'ite Muslims.

A fiery rights activist, Haider gained national fame when she went on a hunger strike to call attention to the persecution and target killing of Hazaras in Balochistan province.

Pakistan’s army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited her in her camp and convinced her to end the strike with promises of protection for the community.

Last year, she made it on to the BBC’s 100 Women 2019 list. The list was established in 2013 to highlight the role of women from around the world.

The BBC site described Haider as a specialist in “defending women's rights in Pakistan, and provides free legal services to women in poverty."

This is not the first time a no-fly list called the ECL has been used to detain a human rights defender. Last year, another female activist Gulalai Ismael was detained and her passport confiscated at the airport upon her return from U.K.

Ismael was later forced to flee the country and applied for political asylum in the United States.