A female activist in Pakistan’s conservative northwestern Pashtun belt lost jobs and put up with cyberbullying and the occasional threatening telephone call after joining a civil rights movement last year.
But Sanna Ejaz, a female leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz (Protection) Movement, or PTM, decided to lodge a formal police complaint after she recently received what she characterized as a “final warning” by telephone and a man chasing her taxi last week waved a handgun at her.
“I am still committed to demanding my right to life as enshrined by the constitution of this state,” she told Radio Mashaal. “I am not willing to give up my peaceful struggle despite already losing my jobs and being banned from traveling abroad.”
Like many leaders of the PTM, Ejaz has faced police probes and accusations of sedition for criticizing Pakistan’s powerful military, which has also led to their names being included on government lists banning them from leaving the country.
Since its emergence in February 2018, the PTM, a nonviolent movement, has accused the Pakistani military of targeting Pashtuns, the country’s largest minority, in its domestic war on terrorism. Ejaz and other PTM leaders say the military has covertly supported Islamist militants and its operations against the Taliban have wreaked large-scale death and destruction across the Pashtun homeland. The predominantly Pashtun-populated northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa now includes the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) -- the main theater of Islamabad’s war on terrorism.
The Pakistani military rejects the PTM’s criticism and has repeatedly accused its leaders of playing into the hands of foreign powers. It has also questioned their patriotism.
Ejaz, however, is happy over the initial response she received from a senior police official in Peshawar. “He told me the police are going to launch an FIR (First Information Report) and will help in any other manner,” she said. An FIR is the initial formal police complaint that is a prerequisite for launching a criminal investigation.
But Zahoor Afridi, a senior police official in Peshawar, says the police are still evaluating Ejaz’s complaints. “We are looking into her application. We have not lodged the FIR yet,” he told Radio Mashaal. “We have launched an inquiry, and we will determine what to do once we conclude the inquiry.”
Ejaz, in her 30s, was fired from hosting shows for the state-run Pakistan Television Corporation last year. Later in the year, she also lost work with a nongovernmental advocacy organization. Likewise, the secular Awami National Party pushed her out of a leadership role within its youth wing.
"I was not doing anything wrong by supporting a peaceful demand for justice, for constitutional rights, and for peace," she told Radio Free Afghanistan. "I will not back down."
On May 16, the PTM launched an online campaign to protest threats against Ejaz. #StopThreateningSannaEjaz trended on Twitter in Pakistan. The movement has also announced street protests in Peshawar on May 17.
“We must make threats to all PTM activists public,” says Wranga Luni, another leader of the movement.