While this is pretty much the story of one courageous woman and a movement of people to support her, I can't help but to be fascinated by the power of the blogosphere in this saga. Since Tuesday afternoon, we've lined up something on the order of 50 blogs supporting Mukhtaran Bibi, who is being held in Pakistan so as not to embarass the corrupt, failed Musharraf government.
And now, I'm getting email updates from inside Pakistan - where, unfortunately, the news is not good. Despite a soothing statement from the U.S. State Department and one from the Pakistani government, Mukhtaran Mai is not free to travel as of this morning. The liberal Pakistani Daily Times reports that although this hero for our times has has been taken off the government's do not travel list, her passport has been confiscated. Here are the details, and it's clear that we must continue to press this case. So please. continue to use the email addresses of the Pakistani U.S. embassy staff, please write members of Congress and the President (politely, Fitz and Alva), and by all means, get as many blogs as possible involved in this. Other than Nick Kristof, this case has been largely ignored by the pontificating piehole class, and that needs to change. From Pakistan:
“I told the prime minister that the government itself should escort her around instead of her getting into the hands of people who might exploit this case and malign Pakistan’s image abroad,” Ahsan told Daily Times. Daily Times sources said that Mai’s Pakistani handler took her to the US embassy and she requested the embassy to return her passport without a visa. Sources said that government authorities seized her passport, saying the government would facilitate Mai if she wished to travel abroad.
Later, Mai spoke to HRCP chairperson Asma Jehangir, and told her that the prime minister called her on the phone and assured her that if she cooperated with the government and handed over her passport, her name would be removed from the ECL. “The prime minister told me that he would personally ensure that I would be able to go to the US in a month,” she was quoted as telling Asma.
Earlier in the National Assembly, Ahsan said the government was violating basic human rights by keeping Mai in custody and not allowing her to meet her lawyer. “It is the basic human right of every Pakistani to appoint a lawyer of his/her choice,” he said. “I am not concerned about her name being on the ECL. I am concerned that she is my client and she is not being allowed to meet me,” he said. He said Mai was also being forced to change her lawyer. “She wanted to meet me in Lahore and then in Islamabad. But she was unable to contact me as Nilofar Bakhtiar did not allow her,” Aitzaz said.
A few housekeeping notes .... I'll be keeping the list of contributing blogs updated, many links came in over night (updates later today). I'm hoping this network of support can hold together and grow over time. Also, I got a small cultural lesson via email as well. Apparently, my references to "Ms. Bibi" essentially translates to "Miss Miss" in Urdu, thereby injecting some (perhaps much-needed) humor at my expense into this story for the Pakistani community. I'll try and get it right.
UPDATE: Mukhtar Mai's situation is still far from clear. Apparently she is still being barred from travel. Amnesty International is all over this now. Its director, Dr. William F. Schulz, issued this statement:
Amnesty International USA is gravely disappointed by reports that gang-rape survivor Mukhtaran Bibi was pressured into withdrawing her visa application for a speaking tour in the United States. That the Pakistani government would bar Ms. Mukhtaran from leaving the country is a testament to the calculated measures it has taken to obscure a human rights record that flies in the face of international standards.
Ms. Mukhtaran, who late last week was in effect put under house arrest and then disappeared, only to show up a day later at a press conference and state her intent to forego her invitation to the United States, was victimized first by her attackers and again by her recent treatment at the hands of her own government. This same government refused to intervene in her case at the time of her rape until it was shamed into action by international pressure.
Despite lifting the travel ban against Ms. Mukhtaran, the government of Pakistan has yet to clarify its role in the cancellation of her trip to the United States. We call on the government of Pakistan to give a public account of what transpired in the time Ms. Mukhtaran was missing and to recommit to protecting women's rights. We urge the United States government to determine whether pressure was indeed exerted on Ms. Mukhtaran to withdraw her visa request.
This just in from Nick Kristof - kind of sad. Looking forward to his column Sunday:
I just had a long talk with Mukhtaran Bibi, who's back in her village (without her passport). I'll write my Sunday column about her, but she wanted her American supporters to know that she really appreciates their help. She's enormously grateful for everyone's help.