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Humanist activist Gulalai Ismail safe in US after escaping Pakistani authorities

Pakistani human rights defender and humanist Gulalai Ismail has arrived safely in the US after spending several months in hiding from Pakistani authorities who had been trying to arrest her for her human rights activism. Gulalai was first arrested last October, after flying back from speaking at a Humanists UK fringe at the Conservative Party Conference. Humanists UK is delighted at the confirmation of her safety.

In June, Humanists UK supported calls coordinated by Humanists International for charges against Gulalai to be dropped. Gulalai was charged with sedition under terrorism laws after being caught attending protests in Pakistan calling for justice for the murder of an 11-year-old girl. Today she released a statement thanking those who helped to negotiate her release and confirmed that she was on track to receive asylum in the US.

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 October. She is also a board member of Humanists International.

When she was last in the UK she met with Humanists UK staff and All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) Chair Crispin Blunt MP. Humanists UK provides the secretariat for the Group. After her arrest she was subsequently released on bail, but then a further, much more serious arrest warrant was issued, leading her to fear for her life, so she went into hiding due to ongoing risks.

Gulalai is also featured in Humanists UK’s recently launched online course on humanism where she was interviewed sharing her story as part of the section on ‘Humanist Lives’ from around the world.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘We welcome the news that Gulalai is now safe in New York after being at grave risk for her human rights campaigning in Pakistan. Gulalai bravely stood up for humanism and wider human rights in one of the countries where such behaviour is the most dangerous. She was treated heinously by officials and others and was living in constant fear of being jailed or killed. It is excellent news that Gulalai is on track to receive asylum in the US and we hope this process will go as smoothly as possible.‘


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at or phone 020 7324 3078.

Read our previous news item calling for charges against Gulalai to be dropped.

Read the Humanists International statement on her release.

Donate to Humanists International’s ‘Protect Humanists at Risk’ fundraiser.

Read more about our international campaigns.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

More 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.

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