Pakistan Puts Female Activist on No-Fly List
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The government of Pakistan has placed a victim of a notorious gang rape on a list of people prevented from leaving the country. Mukhtaran Bibi was supposed to come to the US this Saturday to speak about violence against women in Pakistan. Late last week, she said she'd been placed under house arrest in an attempt to silence her. And according to a Pakistani human rights group, Mukhtaran has now been taken from her village by police to an undisclosed location in Islamabad and is now not reachable by telephone.
Three years ago, Mukhtaran Bibi was sentenced to be gang-raped on orders of a tribal council as punishment for an alleged crime committed by her young brother. Her case has drawn international attention. The US group that invited Mukhtaran to visit this country is the Asian-American Network Against Abuse. Amna Buttar is founder of the group, and she joins us from Madison, Wisconsin.
Ms. Buttar, what is the last that you heard from Mukhtaran Bibi?
Ms. AMNA BUTTAR (Founder, Asian-American Network Against Abuse): Last I heard from her was Sunday morning my time.
BLOCK: And what did she tell you about the conditions then?
Ms. BUTTAR: She actually called me, and then I called her back, because the deputy superintendent of police had come in and told them that they should get ready and he was going to take them first to Lahore to meet her lawyer and then to Islamabad to go to US Embassy. So she called me to confer with me, and we were concerned that this could just be a premise and they may just take her somewhere else. But it seemed like she didn't have much choice, as had been the case as far as her house arrest was concerned. And Mukhtaran actually joked about it. She said, `You know, at least I am under house arrest, but I'm in my house. And now from now on, I won't know where I will be.' And that was the last time I spoke with her.
BLOCK: Hmm. And what have you learned since then about where she might be?
Ms. BUTTAR: Since then, I've learned that she is in Islamabad under government custody, and she is not reachable. She was forced to give a press conference just today, where she was forced to say she doesn't want to go to US, because her mother is sick, but she wants to go in the future. But privately, she spoke to a BBC correspondent and told him that she was being coerced to say this and she was being told that if she doesn't say it, there will be serious consequences to her and her family when, in reality, she wants to go and she wants to be freed.
BLOCK: We mentioned that Mukhtaran Bibi was gang-raped in 2002. What happened? Why was this on orders of a tribal council?
Ms. BUTTAR: At that time, local council sat and they had decided that her brother was at fault, and they decided to punish him by raping her. And four men of Mastoi tribe took her in a room and gang-raped her while outside the whole village was listening. And afterwards, she was actually forced to walk back to her house with very little clothes on, and that is the biggest shame that can befall a woman of that region.
BLOCK: Since then, Mukhtaran Bibi has done remarkable things. She got some money in compensation and has created quite a legacy for herself in her village.
Ms. BUTTAR: She is amazing. One of the reasons why we chose to invite her is that she is not just a victim; she has now become a symbol, a symbol of hope and a symbol of courage. She was a victim and then now she has become an activist. And she took that money that was given to her by the government sort of to shut her up and she opened a school in her village, because she thinks that the reason these crimes happen is because of lack of education. Not only she did that, she also made sure that her rapists' children also went to that school.
BLOCK: Ms. Buttar, what do you do now? You still would want Mukhtaran Bibi to come speak, I would assume, next week at your conference. What are you doing to try to get her out of the country?
Ms. BUTTAR: Well, we're hoping the Pakistani government will release her. We think this is a testing ground for General Musharraf's policy of women empowerment. You know, we want to empower the women, then why shouldn't Mukhtaran be free to leave the country? If the ministers and other politicians can leave the country, then so should she.
BLOCK: Well, Ms. Buttar, thanks very much for talking with us.
Ms. BUTTAR: You're welcome.
BLOCK: Amna Buttar is founder of the Asian-American Network Against Abuse.
The State Department's top official for South Asia told Congress today, `We are dismayed at the treatment being meted out to a courageous woman, Mukhtaran Bibi, who is, herself, a victim of a horrendous crime and is being denied the right to travel and to tell her story.'
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