Written by: Shawn Forbes
Today we celebrate the accomplishments and struggles of the brave women around the world who stand firm in the face of oppression and discrimination. One such woman is Sadia Khan. A young student and writer from Pakistan who dared to speak out against a prevalent fundamentalist ideology. Sadia Khan’s struggle embodies the personal adversity Women everywhere are faced with every day.
Ten years ago in Quetta Pakistan, a young Pashtun girl named Sadia Khan was forced to flee her home alongside her young sister Amala ( an infant ) and their mother. Sadia’s only crime was her objection to a radical and extremist society. Sadia refused to be complacent in a world where women and minorities are deprived the very basic freedoms that every single living being is entitled to. She publicly voiced her objections in her home, community and school. Unfortunately, Sadia soon realized that her peers in the community were already steeped in a state endorsed culture of extremism.
In Pakistan, state polices encourage radical Islamic ideology while punishing moderate principles. Thousands of activists and hundreds of journalists have been abducted and extra-judicially killed by State agencies and vicious death squads. In 2010 Sadia began writing a book exposing these drastic human rights abuses. She traveled extensively throughout Pakistan collecting reports, information, and testimony about ongoing state endorsed extremism.
During this time Sadia‘s own family members tried to take her life, for her political, social, and religious opinions. They also forced their mother to abandon her adopted daughter Amala. They had strong objection over her adoption. According to them she was a curse and was born without a marriage. They said according to their religious traditions, she should be killed for the sin of her unknown parents.
Sadia completed her book in 2011 but her work gained the attention of extremist elements in the region. She soon found herself under constant suvaillance by ISI agents and extremist thugs. In 2011 Sadia found herself the fortunate survivor of a vehicular attack.
Concerned citizens of her community came to inquire about her in a near-by shop. Soon thereafter even these kind hearted citizens received threatening letters. Upon receiving the letter Sadia Khan, alongside her mother & her young sister Amala, fled their home and went to a servant’s house. They remained hiding there for 4 days and on 1st january 2012 left for Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, Sadia was unable to publish her book so she started publishing articles from the book on a blog website. She knew it was very dangerous and will be awarded with death if exposed so she blogged with an anonymous name of Khizra Khan Yousafzai.
Fearing for her life, Sadia and her family registered with UNHCR as asylum seekers. Over estimating the protection of UNHCR Sadia began blogging with her own name and exposed her real identity and location. Due to her outspoken stance against extremism and female oppression, expressed on her very popularblog and youtube channel, Pakistani ISI Agents quickly became aware of her location. Within a week she and her family were apprehended and held in a detention camp for 1 month. While in the detention camp, the authorities advised her:”Your case is between ISI and SIS. ISI agents have contacted the head of SIS and now he himself is investigating about you. You will be presented to the high court and deported to Pakistan.”
Sadia knew she would not be allowed to live after whatever has happened. After experiencing a minor heart attack, her mother was denied permission to visit her daughter in the hospital. Sadia was held under armed guard by Sri Lankan police officers. A doctor told Sadia that they have been advised by Sri Lankan authorities to discharge her as soon as possible, alleging she was a dangerous spy.
When Sadia was still recovering, she was prematurely sent back to the detention camp. Despite her inhuman treatment, Sadia remained vigiliant. She continued to plead with the Sri Lankan UNHCR. Sadia demonstrated her personal strength and resolve, refusing to give up on her family. Trapped by 2 intelligence agencies, and detained by authorities for demanding her basic human rights and personal liberties. On April 9th of 2013 Sadia and her family decided to flee from the detention camp.
After leaving the detention camp, Sadia, Amala, and their mother went into hiding. Persued by International Intelligence Agencies and living in constant fear, Sadia bravely continued her online crusade for justice.
In October 2013 her mother who was exhausted with the life in hiding came forward to publicly beg UNHCR to grant them asylum. Sadia and her little sis Amala left the safe house due to the fear of Sri Lankan authorities. Their mother eventually returned from the Sri Lankan UNHCR office in Colombo to an empty house empty handed.
For over 4 months Sadia and Amala had to live separately from their mother. They fear that their mother was under surveillance, they would all be abducted should they meet. In November 2013 the Sri Lankan UNHCR finally announced their decision to approve Sadia’s asylum request, but a decision regarding her mother and young sister’s applications were still pending. Definitely UNHCR is under a lot of pressure from the state of Sri Lanka or else they would never take over 2 years to decide the fate of 3 women who face death at the hands of a strict Pashtun community and from 2 powerful state agencies.
Thanks to Sadia Khan’s tireless efforts, and personal resolve, the Sri Lankan UNHCR granted full asylum to Sadia Khan, Amala and their mother in February 2014. The unsung heroes like Sadia Khan embody the female spirit. Sadia’s brave struggle against overwhelming odds and hardships reflects the strength of the female spirit. Her success is a victory for all women everywhere. Sadia continues to work towards creating awareness of the oppression of Women in fundamentalist cultures.
Article by Shawn Forbes