US Activists Arrested at Gunpoint by Pakistani Security Forces--Forced to Leave the Country
human rights activists Medea Benjamin and Tighe Barry (of Los Angeles) 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
"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
"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.