Press club dharna: Pakistani couple seek asylum in Delhi

For the last ten days, a Pakistani couple, Zulfikar and Fatima Shah have been camped outside the Press Club of India in Delhi, demanding asylum in India. The lonely vigil, accompanied by little homemade posters claiming “Pakistan wants to kill us,” has drawn little attention.

Zulfikar and Fatima, however, have quite an incredible story to tell. The Shahs claim to be human rights activists in trouble with the Pakistan authorities who are trying to assassinate them. They also say that the ISI poisoned them when they were living in asylum in Nepal - and that the Pakistan High Commission has been threatening and harassing them in India.

The couple ran a think-tank in Pakistan called the Institute of Social Movements which they were forced to shut down in 2012. Zulfikar, who also describes himself as a freelance journalist, has written extensively against human rights violations, kidnapping and forced conversions of Hindu girls, Federal rights etc, which angered the ISI. He also has a book called Beyond Federalism published by German publishers on the subject of Sindhi nationalism.

But in “In 2012, the ISI told us join us or leave the nation. If you don’t leave, you’ll be killed,” says Fatima.

 Press club dharna: Pakistani couple seek asylum in Delhi

Image: Shruti Dhapola

The couple then moved to Nepal where, according to Fatima, they faced several health issues. In Nepal, the couple had applied for help with the UNHRC and were even given asylum. Doctors later revealed to them that there were slowly being poisoned. Fatima says the level of poisoning was so severe that her husband had started losing his memory and faced breathing problems.

With no proper medical help, they then contacted their relatives back in Pakistan who asked them to return. The argument was that if they died in Pakistan, at least the finger of blame would point at the government. On their return to their country, Zulfikar held a press conference to highlight his story. Due to pressure from international media, the couple was allowed to go to India for treatment in February 2013, but their troubles did not end.

“The doctor at Moolchand refused to believe we were being poisoned. When we went to AIIMS after that, we found that the doctor had given us depression tablets. Later, the doctor at AIIMS told us to not to come back. It was only the doctors at Apollo who believed us and started treated without any fear from Pak pressure,” says Fatima.

He and his wife are currently in India on a medical visa which expires on 27 October. Zulfikar is confident that “logically speaking my visa should be extended.” The couple have been in India for nine months but money has now become a concern. They were initially staying at a guesthouse near JNU but had to leave after they were unable to pay rent. “SBI was ready to open an account for us but needed residence proof from the guest house. Initially the person was ready to help us but the next day he asked us to leave,” adds Fatima.

For now, the Shahs are hoping that they will be allowed to open a bank account SO as to allow them to continue with their treatment for poisoning which will continue for another 3-4 months.

As far as Shah’s newspaper writings in Pakistan dailies like Dawn, etc are concerned, it is hard to find any working links for articles he has written. It’s also hard to pinpoint what exactly the Shahs wrote or did that so angered the Pakistan establishment to prompt a cross-border vendetta.

Marvi Sirmed, a prominent Pakistani journalist told us, “It is a bit problematic to believe the story. Don't know him personally, but have been reading his stuff. He has written some research papers for international think tanks and for newspapers as well. But I don't see anything outrageously against Pakistan's intelligence community on which they would react violently.”

She adds, while she too fears for her life in Pakistan due to what she has written, “but its not like I take refuge in another country or things like that. Some people make use of foreign media, especially Indian media, to seek international attention by repeating rhetoric, without having done much damage to the policies of military establishment here.”

But the Shahs themselves are steadfast in their demand for a safe haven.

“I have applied for asylum in other countries, but I can’t reveal which due to security concerns. However I want to be granted asylum in India since the culture here and in Pakistan is similar, I can adjust easily,” says Zulfikar.

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Updated Date: Oct 23, 2013 18:38:37 IST