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Pakistani humanist campaigner arrested in Pakistan on return from Humanists UK’s Conservative Party Conference

Gulalai Ismail with Crispin Blunt MP and Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, at Humanists UK’s fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference last week.

Update, 2 pm: Gulalai has now been released on bail, but her passport has not been returned to her, and she is still unable to leave Pakistan because she is on an ‘exit control list’. Humanists UK is now focused on ensuring she is not prosecuted for any crime and regains the right to travel.

Original story: Pakistani human rights campaigner Gulalai Ismail was arrested at Islamabad Airport today on her return from the UK. Humanists UK has joined other humanist organisations from across the world in calling for her immediate release.

Gulalai was in London to attend the Board meeting of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), of which she is a director. She also attended Humanists UK’s Conservative Party fringe event as a guest speaker alongside Crispin Blunt MP and Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson.

Among other human rights work, Gulalai is the founder of Aware Girls, an organisation which works to empower and educate women and girls on rights and leadership in Pakistan, and mentored Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, whom she also visited when in the UK last week.

Humanists UK Chief Executive and President of IHEU Andrew Copson said:

We are gravely concerned for our dear friend and colleague. Gulalai is a brave humanist and human rights activist, whose tireless efforts for peace and human rights have earned her respect around the world. Pakistan should be proud to have produced such a daughter and we urge the authorities to release her, return her passport, and restore her freedom to travel.

‘We have written today to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Pakistan High Commission in London urging them to support Gulalai’s urgent release and offer her the full protection of the law.’

Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, said:

The news that human rights activist Gulalai Ismail was arrested in Pakistan on her return from the United Kingdom is a truly appalling apparent reflection on Pakistan and its attachment or otherwise to democracy, freedom of expression and the rule of law and a bitter disappointment to those of us who had such expectations of Imran Khan’s new administration. Has the education he received at the University of Oxford counted for nothing, quite apart from cricket’s lessons in fair play?

Gulalai has been a strong advocate of human rights, including building democracy, empowerment of women and girls, and countering violent extremism. I had the pleasure to speak alongside her just eleven days ago at Conservative Party Conference at a meeting of Humanists UK.

I am beyond concerned that such a prominent human rights advocate should be arrested on her return to Pakistan when she had made such a positive impression abroad, as well as winning admiration for her extraordinary courage.

I have written today to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Pakistan High Commission in London urging them to support Gulalais urgent release and offer her the full protection of the law.

Gulalai Ismail with Malala Yousafzai earlier this week.

About Gulalai

Gulalai Ismail is an award-winning Pakistani human rights defender. She is the co-founder and chairperson of Aware Girls, an organization which works to empower and educate women and girls on rights and leadership in Pakistan, and chair of the Seeds of Peace network. She regularly speaks at home and abroad on peace-building in Pakistan and women’s empowerment.

Aware Girls aims to challenge the culture of violence and oppression of women in the rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area (north-west Pakistan). The Seeds of Peace network, founded in 2010, trains young people in human rights and political leadership, encouraging the participation of women in politics in Pakistan, and encouraging tolerance between religions and beliefs.

Gulalai is a recipient of the Fondation Chirac Peace Prize, and won the International Humanist of the Year Award 2014. She has also been awarded the Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy, the Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Democracy, and the Anna Politkovskaya Award.

In August 2017, she was elected by member organisations from around the world to the Board of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). She has previously been on the Executive Committee of the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation, and a Board Member of the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights. She also works for the Gender Working Group of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, and is a member of the Asian Democracy Network.


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 07815 589636.

For more information on Gulalai Ismail, visit

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