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Mai and Shazia invited to address NY rally

WASHINGTON: Mukhtar Mai and Dr Shazia Khalid have been invited by a Pakistani-dominated group to speak at a protest rally in New York around the time of President Pervez Musharraf's visit to New York next month.

The protest is being mounted by the Asian American Network against Abuse of Women (AANA), the organisation led in the main by several Pakistani doctors. AANA it was that invited Mukhtar Mai to the United States, a visit she was unable to make because of restrictions placed on her travel by the government. Those restrictions have since been lifted and she is said to be free to travel. Dr Shazia Khalid is already in London with her husband. Her case is
bound to gain new notoriety with the appearance in the New York Times of a hard-hitting column by Nicholas Kristof on Sunday. A second instalment will follow, according to the columnist. Kristof earlier wrote two columns highlighting Mukhtar Mai's plight. The New York Times columnist was refused a visa by the Pakistani authorities when he applied for one in March this year. Daily Times has learnt that the decision to deny him the visa was taken at a low official level in Islamabad in the Interior Division of the Home ministry. While it cannot be said that Kristof's
writings on the Mukhtar Mai issue have been affected by the refusal, at the same time, it could only have
caused annoyance. It is not clear if Kristof still wishes to go to Pakistan or whether the decision not
to grant him a visa has been rescinded.

The AANA protest between 20 and 22 September is to be joined by Amnesty International, a role the organisation was not founded to play, its area of work being prisoners of conscience. The protest organised by AANA outside the embassy of Pakistan in Washington earlier this year in favour of Mukhtar Mai included a representative of Amnesty. At a time when Pakistan is trying to sell a "soft image" of the country abroad, such protests are obviously not going to be of help Islamabad's effort.

Information provided by AANA says that the organisation is "determined to bring to (the) fore victims of human rights abuses in Pakistan" which is why it has invited Mukhtar Mai, and Dr Shazia Khalid to speak at the New York rally. Dr Shazia Khalid, says the group, also "gives a voice to thousands of women in Pakistan who live daily with the fear of violence and torture." The group adds, "Mukhtar Mai gave inspiration to Dr Shazia Khalid to speak out." AANA fears that the passage of the Hasba Bill in the NWFP Assembly is a forerunner to the establishment of "a
moral police that in Taliban fashion will patrol the streets and punish people who fail to follow proper Islamic practices." The group accuses the federal government in Islamabad of having passed no more than a "lip-service bill" against honour killing.

According to AANA, "The Government of Pakistan has one of the worst human rights records in the world: at
least three 'honour killings' occur each day and a woman raped once every two and a half hours."

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