Pakistani lawyer representing victims of drone strikes prevented from speaking in US

April 11, 2012

Image of Noor Khan & Kareem Khan

The US government has failed to grant a visa to Pakistani lawyer Shahzad Akbar, effectively blocking his appearance at an International Drone Summit in Washington DC on April 28. 

The Drone Summit, organised by the peace group CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Reprieve, aims to bring transparency to the CIA’s secret drone programme, which has killed hundreds of people in Pakistan with no due process and no accountability . The testimony of Mr Akbar, who provides legal aid to victims of drone strikes, is crucial to the Summit.Mr Akbar filed the first case in Pakistan on behalf of civilian drones victims and has been a critical force in litigating and advocating on their behalf. He recently founded the Islamabad-based human rights group the Foundation for Fundamental Rights to help pursue legal accountability for the deaths caused by drones.

Although Mr Akbar has travelled to the US in the past, he has not been granted permission to return since he began speaking out against drone attacks on his home soil. He was previously invited to speak about drone deaths at Columbia University in New York, but he never received a response to the visa application he filed in May 2011. One year later, he is still waiting for a response, and the US Embassy in Islamabad will not explain the delay.

Shahzad Akbar, Dorector of the Foundantion for Fundamental Rights,  said: “Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the US government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world. The CIA, which operates the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people have the right to know.”

Co-Director of CODEPINK Medea Benjamin said: “Shahzad is the voice for these poor tribal people who have had no recourse. It’s outrageous that our government is trying to keep him from speaking at the Drone Summit.”Cortney Busch, investigator at Reprieve, said: “If the Obama Administration continues to avoid discussion of its drones programme, Shahzad Akbar must be allowed to tell the stories of the numerous victims he has met in order to give voice to a silenced community.  Shahzad remains one of only a handful of people worldwide able to shed light on these clandestine CIA attacks. The US must allow honest debate on a policy which is killing hundreds of civilians and straining relations between the US and Pakistan.”

ENDS

1. Shahzad Akbar is available for interviews from Pakistan. To arrange an interview, contact Ramah Kudaimi rkudaimi@gmail.com or call 708-822-5880.

2. For further information please contact Shahzad Akbar on +92 312 5055971 or go to  http://www.reprieve.org.uk/investigations/drones/

3. Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives.  Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 15 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, assisting over 70prisoners facing the death penalty around the world, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Follow Reprieve on twitter: @ReprieveUK; if you were forwarded this release, sign up to join our press mailing list.

Sign up to join our press mailing list.