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US Activists Arrested at Gunpoint by Pakistani Security Forces
Forced to Leave the Country
U.S. human rights activists Medea Benjamin and Tighe Barry were arrested in Lahore, Pakistan at 8:30pm on Wednesday, December 4 after attending a student rally at the Lahore Press Club. Upon leaving the Club in the company of several journalists, the car they were driving in was pulled off the road. Armed policemen jumped out of cars and motorcycles and surrounded their car, guns drawn. They forced the driver and journalists out, beat passers-by who were looking at the scene, and hijacked the car with Benjamin and Barry inside. They raced recklessly through the crowded streets of Lahore, endangering the lives of those in the car and outside. They took the two activists to the Race Course Police Station. Benjamin was roughed up by a woman police officer who was given orders to take away their cell phone.
Benjamin and Barry were never charged with anything and no reason was given for their brutal arrest. After four hours, a representative of the US Embassy appeared. The activists were allowed to leave in his custody, but are being forced to leave the country on Wednesday.
"It was a terrifying experience,” says Benjamin. “I had no idea if we would get out of it dead or alive. If they do this to us, who have the protection of being US citizens, imagine what they do to their own citizens."
"It is so sad that peace activists would be treated like this,” says Barry. “We call on our government to condemn our abusive treatment and deportation. It is one more example of the dictatorial nature of Musharraf’s government and one more reason why the U.S. government should stop supporting him.”
Benjamin and Barry are members of the U.S. human rights group Global Exchange and the women's peace group CODEPINK. They arrived in Pakistan on November 25 to learn about and support Pakistani civil society. They have been meeting with lawyers, students, judges, journalists and political leaders. They also conducted a 24-hour vigil outside the home of prominent lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, who is under house arrest. Through these activities, they have received tremendous support and appreciation from the Pakistani people, including a Letter of Thanks from the Lahore High Court Bar Association extending "heartfelt gratitude for showing solidarity with the legal community of Pakistan."
The activists leave Pakistan shaken by their treatment but inspired by the example of the Pakistani people struggling for democracy.
Benjamin and Barry will be arriving at New York’s JFK airport at 8am on Thursday and will be available for interviews.