An investigative journalist, who was forced to flee from Pakistan after uncovering and publicising details of official corruption, has lodged a fresh asylum claim to stay in the UK.
Mansoor Hassan and his family, who are currently living in Manchester, fled from Pakistan in 2002, after alleged incidences of abuse and threats. Mansoor’s journalistic exposés ranged from detailing the honour killing of a young woman by her own father, a member of the provincial assembly, to outing the activities of a company selling toxic waste substances to farmers, owned by the Minister of Agriculture for Pakistan. The responses his writing elicited apparently included vicious physical attacks and threats to his family. In addition, he claims that his family home was burned down and that his family was poisoned with barbiturates whilst dining in a local restaurant. The situation reached a climax when Mansoor exposed the links between drug traffickers and senior politicians and passed this information on to anti-narcotic agencies. Mansoor’s anonymity was not protected and he was forced to resign at gunpoint, told that if he remained in Pakistan, his family would be killed. He claims that the police could not provide adequate protection for his family and that despite moving several times, he was forced to flee the country.
Pakistan and human rights violations
These types of allegations of abuse have been corroborated by the organisation Human Rights Watch, which reports that the Pakistani government ‘systematically violates the fundamental rights [of journalists] through threats, harassment, and arbitrary arrests’. The situation in his homeland is getting worse, according to the organisation, with ‘military government becoming increasingly intolerant of press freedoms in Pakistan and the arrest of editors and reporters from local and regional newspapers on charges of sedition becoming increasingly commonplace.’
Other groups have also highlighted the growing government hostility directed at journalists in Pakistan. According to the Amnesty International US Annual Report 2004, ‘one man was shot dead… allegedly because of his writings on political issues. There were reports that those responsible were known to the police, but no action was taken against them.’
The battle to stay in the UK
Mansoor told IRR News of the impact that four years of battling against the UK immigration system has had: ‘The children have to be finger-printed and need to sign in at centres. These are not the right conditions for children and it is not the treatment that parents want for their offspring. The children want to play and have fun. Their childhood is being ruined by this system.’ He also spoke of his gratitude to the individuals and organisations that have come forward to pledge their support to his family. A recent demonstration organised by the Mansoor Hassan and Family Campaign, staged outside the Dallas Court Enforcement Unit, included representatives from local, regional and national organisations.
A fresh claim for asylum has now been submitted to the Home Office and Mansoor is optimistic about the outcome. ‘We have growing support from professional organisations and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) are providing expert witnesses who are able to report about the situation for investigative journalists in Pakistan’, he commented.
Bob Pounder, who has worked closely with Mansoor over the past four years, also spoke to IRR News about his hopes for the family’s future: ‘When I first met the family, they were having a terrible time and were virtually living in a state of siege. They had been housed in a White, working-class area and were subjected to harassment. But over the past years, the situation has changed. There is a tremendous amount of support for this dynamic and charismatic family. We have campaigned on the internet and have had significant help from the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns (NCADC), and from various trade unions, including the NUJ. This is a high profile campaign and has included measures such as the “Mansoor Express”, which involved driving a coach-load of supporters to the Home Office in order to lobby. The campaign has been backed by high profile figures, including Billy Bragg, Julie Hesmondhalgh (Coronation Street’s ‘Hayley’), the Lord Mayor of Manchester, the late Robin Cook and Tony Lloyd MP.’
Mr Pounder claimed that Mansoor ‘was not given a fair trial in the UK’ and is currently awaiting a response from the European Court of Human Rights, to which the campaigners have appealed. He believes that the fresh asylum claim is more likely to be successful. In the original application for asylum, Mansoor claimed that he had been forced to re-locate to various areas of Pakistan, fearing for the safety of his family, yet the adjudicator dismissed this claim due to the fact that Pakistani ID cards only give the individuals original Pakistani address. This point has now been proven and Mansoor’s internal flight can be used as evidence of the abuse he faced.
Supporters of the Hassans have been keen to highlight the positive effect that each member of the family has had on the local community. The four children are now attending a local school, where teachers have described them as ‘settled and very good students’. Mansoor’s wife, Aqila, a teacher with an MSc in Economics, is currently working as a volunteer at her children’s school and has completed training as a classroom assistant and as a community worker. Since arriving in the UK, Mansoor has worked as a volunteer with the British Red Cross and as part of a refugee orientation programme and he is also a popular parent governor at his children’s school. Mr Pounder commented: ‘Mansoor is just one of those blokes. Everybody likes him. With the support that this campaign has generated, we are all hoping for a positive outcome for the Hassan family.’