Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children, 9-year-old Nebila and 13-year-old Zubiar, are from the tribal regions of north Waziristan, an area of Pakistan that has been devastated by US drone strikes. Last year, Rafiq’s children were injured by a drone strike that also killed his 67-year-old mother (the children’s grandmother), Mamana.
Rafiq’s story is featured in an upcoming film by Robert Greenwald of the Brave New Foundation. Here is a clip:
The family has been invited to testify in person about their experience at a Congressional hearing, which marks the first time Congress will hear from survivors of the CIA’s drone war. However, the hearing has been postponed indefinitely because the State Department refuses to grant a visa to Rafiq’s lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, a legal fellow with the British human rights group Reprieve and the director of the Pakistan-based Foundation for Fundamental Rights.The Guardian’s Ryan Devereaux reports that this isn’t the first time the US government has actively derailed Akbar, a vocal critic of US drone strikes who represents over 150 survivors in litigation against CIA and government officials in Pakistan:
According to Akbar, his clients’ visas for the trip have been approved, but his has not. He believes the hold-up is political.
“It’s not like my name is scratched because there is some sort of confusion. My name is blocked,” Akbar told the Guardian. “Before I started drone investigations I never had an issue with US visa. In fact, I had a US diplomatic visa for two years.”
This is the third tangle Akbar has experienced with US authorities over a visa since 2011, a year after he began investigating drone strikes. In April, Akbar said he was being prevented from speaking at a human rights conference in Washington because of a delay processing his application. He was eventually granted entry.
Akbar says his most recent experience with US officials at the US embassy in Islamabad has confirmed his suspicion that he is “blacklisted”:
Akbar said the woman who interviewed him told him he had been “flagged.”
“She said they know me very well, so they don’t need really to clarify anything. They were aware that I was coming. They were aware of the invitation from the congressman,” Akbar said.
He claimed the woman told him her job was to identify immigration or flight risks, neither of which he was, then said that because his “history” with the US, “my visa has been flagged.”
A State Department spokeswoman said “two agents” were reviewing questions concerning Akbar’s visa submitted by the Guardian but did not respond with answers before publication.
“I keep checking and they still tell me that it’s in administrative process,” Akbar said. “They say they cannot tell me how long it will take.” A state department information sheet indicates the total wait time for a non-immigrant visa in Islamabad, including the appointment interview and processing, should not exceed 13 days. Akbar began the process one month ago.
Akbar believes another government agency may be blocking his visit. “We brought litigation, civil litigation and civil charges, against CIA officials in Pakistan for their role in drone strikes. I think it’s pretty clear that I have been blacklisted because of that.”
By barring Akbar from obtaining a visa, the US is silencing Rafiq and his children, robbing them of having a voice on an issue that has destroyed their lives while shielding US policy makers from coming face to face with the innocent people impacted by our nation’s penchant for violence.
Robert Greenwald offered the following suggestions for those of us outraged by this story:
The State Department needs to hear from us now, here are three simple ways to help with the campaign:
- Call the State dept. directly at 202-647-4000
- Follow up with an email demanding the State Dept. issue a visa for Shahzad
- And sign our petition now to demand that the drone victims be allowed to speak in the U.S.
In related news, UK border authorities detained Yemeni anti-drone activist Baraa Shiban yesterday under Schedule 7 of the country’s Terrorism Act (the same “anti-terrorism” law that Glenn Greenwald’s partner was detained under last month).
According to The Guardian, Shiban is as “a respected human rights activist who works in Yemen as a project co-ordinator for the London-based legal charity Reprieve and was travelling to London to speak at an event, said he was held for an hour on Monday night and questioned about his work and political views.”
That the US and UK are terrified of foreign anti-drone activists demonstrates the power of their voices, hence the need to to intimidate and silence them.