Medea Benjamin's Blogs & Photos

Posted by on December 27th, 2007

In Memory of Benazir Bhutto, Cut U.S. Ties to Musharraf
By Medea Benjamin

In Memory of Benazir Bhutto, Cut U.S. Ties to Musharraf
By Medea Benjamin, CODEPINK: Women for Peace

Our hearts and thoughts are with the Pakistani people as they mourn the death of Benazir Bhutto. We extend our deep sorrow to her family and the millions of supporters who for decades have seen the Bhutto family as a source of inspiration. We also extend our condolences to the families of the other Pakistanis who were killed in this heinous crime.

We at CODEPINK were in touch with the former Prime Minister when we were writing our book Stop the Next War Now. In fact, Bhutto graciously contributed an essay that was a plea to counter extremism and “a clash of civilizations that can lead to Armageddon, where there will be no winners on earth.”

Bhutto's assassination is a blow to people all over Pakistan, and the world, who hold life sacred and believe in the basics precepts of democracy. It is also a blow to women worldwide who took strength from seeing such a courageous, articulate and charismatic woman playing a leadership role in a powerful Muslim country. Inside Pakistan, even her most bitter critics wept at the news of her death, understanding that it is indeed a dark day when assassination becomes a tool for eliminating opposing viewpoints.

There is much speculation about who committed this odious act. It could certainly be religious militants opposed to a leader like Bhutto who repeatedly expressed her determination to combat violent extremists. Bhutto was perceived by many Pakistanis as too “pro-Western,” especially after remarks that if elected Prime Minister, she might allow U.S. military strikes inside Pakistan to eliminate al-Qaeda.

But it is not too far-fetched to think that the assassination could have been orchestrated by Pervez Musharraf or members of the military. Many in Pakistan speculated that the government was responsible for the bomb blasts that killed 140 Pakistanis when Bhutto first returned home on October 18, citing the fact that the street lights were turned off just before the attack and questioning the lack of a serious investigation afterwards. In fact, Musharraf had refused Bhutto's request that an independent foreign team be brought in to help with the investigation. This time, there must be a serious investigation conducted by a body independent of the government and those responsible must be found and held accountable.

Elections scheduled for January 8 must be postponed. Even before this tragedy, there were no conditions for free and fair elections. The Musharraf regime had fired independent judges, censored the press and stacked the Election Commission. It is absolutely key that an independent judiciary and free press be restored, and that elections then be scheduled under the aegis of an independent electoral commission.

The international community must put pressure on Musharraf not to use this tragedy to impose another round of emergency rule like the one he imposed on November 3, which led to the crackdown on lawyers, students, journalists and other members of Pakistan's vibrant civil society. Bhutto's death will be doubly tragic if it becomes an excuse for Musharraf to stifle the very civil society that is the true bulwark against extremism.

If Bhutto's death proves anything, it is the utter failure of Musharraf's regime and the utter failure of the Bush administration's policy of supporting Musharraf. Pakistani civil society has long been calling for Musharraf to resign. Now leaders like former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have added their voice to that call, publicly holding Musharraf responsible for Bhutto's death and demanding he step down.

CODEPINK agrees that Musharraf is the biggest obstacle facing a democratic Pakistan today. He is not capable of either fighting extremists or building a society that respects the rule of law. My colleague Tighe Barry and I recently had a taste of his dictatorial ways when we were kidnapped and carjacked at gunpoint and then deported for supporting the pro-democracy movement.

The US government must use this time to radically change its policy in Pakistan. The Bush administration has been a staunch supporter of Musharraf, providing his regime with over $10 billion in financial aid since 2001. In return, Musharraf was supposed to fight religious extremists. But Osama bin Laden has never been caught, and in the last few years al-Qaeda and the Taliban have become stronger in Pakistan. In the meantime, Musharraf's use of US funds to crack down on the country's democratic forces has led to growing anti-American sentiments among the nation's moderate, secular forces. The U.S. government should withhold assistance until Musharraf steps down and a caretaker government restores the independent judiciary, lifts restrictions on the press and sets up the conditions for fair elections.

We should also begin to focus our attention on one of the key underlying causes for the growth of extremism in Pakistan: the extreme poverty that persists, especially in the tribal areas where al-Qaeda is most active.

Benazir Bhutto spoke about this in the essay she wrote for our book. Her words were poignant then, and are even more poignant upon her death:

“The neglect of rising poverty against the background of religious extremism can only complicate an already difficult world situation,” she said. “The war against terrorism is primarily perceived as a war based on the use of force. However, economics has its own force, as does the desperation of families who cannot feed themselves.

“Militancy and greed cannot become the defining images of a new century that began with much hope. We must refocus our energy on promoting the values of democracy, accountability, broad-based government, and institutions that can respond to people's very real and very urgent needs.”

We, as global citizens, can pay tribute to Bhutto by rising to her challenge. Whether in Pakistan or in our home countries, we can dedicate ourselves to building a world based on tolerance, cooperation and fulfilling the urgent needs of the human family—which are the pillars of a more peaceful world.

December 17, 2007

Pakistan's Emergency Rule Lifted, But GEO TV Still Banned
By Medea Benjamin
GEO talk show host Hamid Mir and GEO Director Imran Aslam with Medea Benjamin in Karachi.

With only three weeks left until elections on January 8, Pakistan's President Musharraf is trying to set the stage for free and fair elections by lifting the Emergency Rule he had imposed on November 3. While declared in the name of the war on terror, the 42-day Emergency Rule was used to eviscerate the judiciary by sacking independent judges and replacing them with Musharraf supporters. It was also used to crack down on the press, a press that had become one of the few checks on the military government. It's hard to consider the upcoming elections as legitimate when two key democratic institutions-the judiciary and the press-have been destroyed.

In the crackdown on the press, Musharraf did not go after the print media, since just a small fraction of Pakistanis read newspapers. Instead he targeted TV and radio stations, closing them down, beating journalists, seizing equipment. To return to the air, the stations had to sign a code of conduct promising not to broadcast anything that "defames or brings into ridicule the head of state or the military." Most of the stations signed this under duress and resumed broadcasting, but journalists all over the country continue to protest the restrictions and the nation's Press Clubs have become centers of anti-Musharraf activities.

One TV station that has still not been allowed back on the air is GEO, the nation's largest station. The government has a particular vendetta against GEO, closing not only its news channel, but also its sports, entertainment and youth channels-costing the station about $500,000 a day and jeopardizing the livelihoods of some 2,500 employees.

Ironically, it is precisely under Musharraf's rule that private television began to thrive in Pakistan. The General was used to controlling the airwaves through the state-run PTV, which the public had dubbed with the slogan "On PTV, seeing is not believing." People realized that state-run TV was government propaganda, and there was a thirst for independent TV outlets. While the Arab world saw the blossoming of Al Jazeera and other independent networks, Pakistan saw the creation of GEO.

"The channel ran into problems from its inception in 2002, as Musharraf tried to control it," GEO TV's charismatic President Imran Aslan recalled as he gave us a tour of the station's sprawling headquarters in Karachi. At a meeting with government officials in early 2002, the owner of GEO, who heads a powerful media conglomerate called The Jang Group, was informed that key members of the GEO team were unacceptable. He was told that if he hired a different crew, the station could go forward. "But what the government officials didn't know is that the owner had taped the entire conversation," laughed Aslan. "The next day we went straight to the Press Club and played the tape. The government was so embarrassed that it allowed GEO to go ahead."

The feisty station was launched in August 2002 with a talented team that innovated an all fronts, not just the news. They revived sports that were dying out-boxing, hockey, volleyball, football, polo. Ignoring the threats of religious fundamentalists, they televised marathons where men and women ran together. On the youth channel, they had call-in shows where young people from around the country could say whatever they wanted, unedited, uncensored.

They changed the debate on women's rights, launching a campaign to openly discuss Pakistan's controversial rape laws that blame the victim, threatening her with lashings or even stoning to death. Since they were enforced by Zia ul Haq in 1979, these laws have been regarded as untouchable for fear of a backlash by powerful religious extremists. GEO took the issue head on, and not from a more obvious feminist perspective, but by airing debates between religious leaders about whether these practices were in conformance with Islam. The debate, which included religious leaders labeling these practices are un-Islamic and immoral, led to the drafting of new laws more favorable to rape victims.

But what landed GEO in hot water with the government was their news show. "We would get Musharraf and top government officials on our shows and ask them tough questions," famed talk show host Hamid Mir told us. "I asked Musharraf how he could be President while on the payroll as Army Chief, or how could he let Benazir Bhutto back in the country but not Nawaz Sharif-questions he found hard to answer."

GEO reporters and talk show hosts questioned the army about missing people, about their tactics fighting in Balochistan and the tribal areas. They even pressed Benazir Bhutto so hard about the assassination of her brother, questioning how it happened under her rule, that she got up and walked out in the middle of a show.

GEO brought irreverence and satire to the TV screen with the hilarious animated cartoon called "Pillow talk", which featured conversations between Musharraf and Bush. Sometimes the two leaders would be chatting in bed, with George Bush wrapped up in a Mickey Mouse blanket.

"We alienated everyone, so I guess we did our job," joked Imran Aslan. "We were innovative, we pushed the limits, we had fun--and the people loved us. In less than six years, we had a lead of 8-9 points on other stations."

By closing the sports, youth and entertainment channels, the government's goal is to cripple the station financially. The head of GEO Sports Channel Mohammad Ali had tried, unsuccessfully, to petition the court to get the 24-hour sports station reopened. "What does sports have to do with the war on terror?", Ali asked when we met him outside the Courthouse. "We just lost $15 million dollars we had paid for the right to broadcast the India-Pakistan cricket match. The people were deprived of seeing a match they love, and we are being ruined financially."

"This is just vindictive on the part of the government; it's a blatant effort to put us out of business," said Aslan after losing the court case. "My biggest regret is that the government is jeopardizing the livelihoods of so many wonderful staff, who are among the finest minds in this country."

With the upcoming elections, GEO had been poised to play a major role. It had a campaign called "You have the vote, don't' you?, " encouraging people to exercise their right to vote. They had anticipated airing debates, educating voters about the views of the different parties and candidates, and training young people all over the country to report on the campaigns.

While the Bush Administration has been touting the upcoming elections, it has been silent on the continued silencing of GEO. It was not even mentioned in the testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher when he testified before Congress on December 6 about continued aid to Pakistan. Boucher admitted that democracy requires not only elections "but accountable government institutions, including a free and dynamic press." But instead of using the opportunity to demand that press restrictions be lifted, Boucher gave the stunning conclusion that "Pakistan is making progress toward these goals."

The U.S. government, which gives over $100 million a month to Pakistan, should speak out forcefully against the banning of GEO, and withhold U.S. assistance until GEO is back on air. And when assistance is resumed, a portion of our aid should help GEO get on its feet financially.

An independent media is the backbone of a democratic nation. If the US government is truly committed to democracy in Pakistan, it should support GEO and Pakistan's courageous journalists in their struggle for a free press.

Medea Benjamin (, Cofounder of CODEPINK and Global Exchange, and CODEPINK activist Tighe Barry were kidnapped by Pakistani government agents and deported on December 4 for supporting the democracy movement.

December 7, 2007

Deported at Gunpoint by Pakistani Government,
By Medea Benjamin

On our tenth day in Pakistan, my colleague Tighe Barry and I, both human rights activists with CODEPINK and Global Exchange, were arrested at gunpoint by agents of the Pakistani government. We had just left a student rally and were driving down the streets of Lahore with a car full of Pakistani journalists and lawyers. Two cars and six motorbikes came screeching up, blocked our car, piled out with guns drawn, dragged the journalists and lawyers out of the car, beat the bystanders, and hijacked the car. With the two of us huddled in the back surrounded by shouting police, our captors raced at breakneck speed through the crowded streets of Lahore. We had no idea why we were being abducted or where we were headed.

The car pulled up to the Race Course Police Station, where more police threw open the gate and dragged us inside. Terrified, we found ourselves in the office of a shady-looking character in a running suit. He had on no badge or ID, but behind his desk was a framed certificate made out to Faizal Gulzar Awan, awarded by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Great—he'd been trained by the FBI. That made us even more terrified!

Our phone had been ringing non-stop, with our friends desperate to find us. The police tried to grab the phone from Tighe, but I snatched it and stuck it down my shirt, assuming the Muslim deference for women would keep them from attacking me physically. I also pressed the answer button, as a call was coming in. Infuriated, Mr. Awan called in a policewoman to get the phone, who pulled and shoved and pinched me, putting her hand down my shirt while I screamed and held on for dear life. All of that, we informed them, was being recorded at the other end by our journalist friends.

At that point, our captor Mr. Ijaz from the Special Police Force, walked in, and the two of them switched to the good cop mode. “Okay, okay,” said Mr. Awan. “Let's all calm down.” “Yes, yes,” Mr. Ijaz smiled. “Let's all drink tea together.” They brought out the tea, which we refused to drink, and tried to talk small talk, asking us questions like “What is your favorite Pakistani food?” and “What is the weather like back in the United States?” We refused to answer their questions and instead insisted on talking to a lawyer or someone from the US Consulate.

Finally, after making endless phone calls to their superiors, they allowed us to call the Consulate. We talked to the political officer, Antone Greuble, who was well aware of the situation and said he was on his way.

When we got off the phone, Mr. Awan shocked us with his comment. “We don't know why you were arrested,” he said, “we are only carrying out orders from high up. But I think your own government had a hand in it because you embarrassed the Ambassador when she was in town.” Just the day before, when Ambassador Anne Patterson was holding a press conference, we had confronted her about the Bush administration's continued support for Musharraf. Now we didn't know who to fear more, Musharraf or our own government.

Four hours later, Mr. Grueble from the Consulate appeared with two security agents. He said that Pakistani government had canceled our visas (which were valid for two more months). The government felt we were engaging in seditious acts under the emergency rules by showing up at rallies and by sitting outside the home of detained lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan. “Why didn't the government just warn us that we were doing something wrong or nicely ask us to come into the police station, instead of terrorizing us?,” Tighe asked. “Because this is Pakistan,” Greuble replied, condescendingly.

This is indeed Pakistan, but it is the Pakistan of a Pervez Musharraf, a close U.S. ally who has been receiving over $100 million a month of our taxdollars. It is the Pakistan of a dictator posing as a democrat, a general who took off his uniform to please the West, but who remains the strongman who runs the show. It is the Pakistan of Musharraf's emergency rule, issued on November 3 in the name of fighting terrorism but used to wage war on the democratic forces of this country.

In our ten-day visit, we met lawyers who had been brutally beaten and thrown into prisons with rats and murderers. We met judges who had dedicated their lives to the rule of law, only to find themselves unceremoniously thrown off the bench and even physically evicted from their homes. We met students who had been beaten with batons and face expulsion for participating in pro-democracy rallies. We met journalists whose programs had been yanked off the air and tossed from their jobs for criticizing the government. All this under the guise of the war on terror. All this with the continued support of the U.S. government.

Back at our jail in Lahore, Mr. Greuble explained our options. We could languish in jail for an unknown period and then be deported, or we could leave the country on the next available flight. We “chose” the latter. We were released under the care of the U.S. political officer, who booked us on a flight the following day.

Before we left, we had a final goodbye gathering with our newfound friends--the amazing group of lawyers, journalists and students we had met at rallies, vigils, debates. They apologized profusely for the actions of their government; we apologized profusely for our government's actions.

Reflecting on our ordeal on the flight home, Tighe and I marveled at the courage and determination of the Pakistani activists. We left angry at the Pakistani government for the way we were treated, but inspired and motivated by the example of our Pakistani brothers and sisters.

December 2, 2007

Vigil Outside a “Sub-Jail” in Lahore,
By Medea Benjamin

As soon as we arrived in Lahore, Pakistan on November 30, Tighe Barry and I—both human rights activists from the United States—called the wife of the most prominent lawyer in Pakistan today, Aitzaz Ahsan. Ahsan is under house arrest, but his wife, Bushra, invited us to come by their office the following day.

The law office of Aitzaz Ahsan is connected to his home. When we arrived, the building was surrounded by 10 policemen. We entered the office and had a long chat with Bushra. She told us that her husband had been in jail for 21 days, and was then placed under house arrest. He was not allowed to leave the house, and visitors were not allowed in. I asked her if we could try. She smiled and escorted us to the door connecting the home and office.

A sign on the door read “Sub-jail,” and two officers were guarding the door. We greeted them and asked to be allowed in. “We have come all the way from the United States to meet Aitzaz Ahsan,” I said politely. “Can we please meet with him?” The jailors wouldn't budge.

Later in the day, about 60 members of Lahore's civil society staged a rally outside the house. Their signs read, “Free Aitzaz Ahsan,” “Restore the Judiciary”, “We want democracy.” They stayed outside the house for about an hour, chanting and singing. The crowd included lawyers in their traditional black jackets, businessmen in their suits, professional women in their colorful “shalwar kamiz,” even several children. They were certainly not a dangerous-looking crowd.

Neither is Aitzaz Ahsan, who suddenly appeared on the balcony to the delight of the protesters. He was not allowed to speak to them, but he raised his hand in a peace sign, and the crowd roared “Long Live Aitzaz.”

The 62-year-old, gray-haired, bespeckled Ahsan who is president of the Supreme Court Bar Association, looks like a mild-mannered professor but to President Musharraf, he's a dangerous man. He defended the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, when Musharraf fired him back in March. Ahsan won the battle, Chaudhry was reinstated, and Musharraf was furious.

That was just the beginning. Ahsan, emboldened, took a case against Musharraf up to the Supreme Court, arguing that Musharraf could not legally be both president and army chief. The court was just about to decide the case when Musharraf clamped down and imposed emergency rule on November 3. While the pretext was the need to counter Islamic militants, the government instead arrested thousands of lawyers, journalists and members of civil society, and fired the independent judges.

Most of those arrested have been released, but a few key lawyers such as Ahsan remain in detention, and the independent judges have not been reinstated. That's why the demands of civil society are not just to lift the emergency law, as Musharraf now says he will do on December 16, but also to release all those arrested, restore the independent judiciary and restore freedom of the press. Most members of civil society are calling for a boycott of the elections until these conditions are met.

Pervez Musharraf has taken off his uniform to please the West, but he is still no democrat. In the past month, his regime has shamefully beaten and jailed thousands of this nation's best and brightest. Equally shameful is the fact that the Bush administration continues to back him, instead of backing the democratic civil society struggling under his grip.

Aitzaz Ahsan is now a symbol in Pakistan of the people's struggle for democracy. That's why we decided to sit outside his door, his “subjail”, in protest of his continued detention, in protest of our government's backing of a dictator, and most of all, in support of the Pakistani people.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace. Benjamin and CODEPINK activist Tighe Barry are staging a 24-hour vigil outside the home of Aitzaz Ashan in Lahore, Pakistan from December 2-3.. For more information see

November 27, Karachi, Pakistan.

Judges Get a Heroes' Reception Medea Benjamin

The heroes in today's Pakistan are not the returning former Prime Ministers—Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif—but the Supreme Court and High Court judges who refused to accept General Musharraf's emergency law putting the Constitution in abeyance. When asked to take a new oath pledging to uphold his “Provisional Constitutional Order”, they simply said no. While politicians Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif are making deals with Musharraf to get back into power, these judges are putting principle over power. They may have lost their seats on the bench, but they have won the hearts of millions of Pakistanis.

We got to see a manifestation of this by accompanying a group of activists in Karachi to the home of one of the Sindh High Court Judges, Sarmad Jalal Osmany. The judge was having a dinner party for his colleagues who had also refused to take the oath.

Codepink meets citizens of Pakistan who are braving the conditions to raise their voice against injustice. They explain what the whole protest is about and who is the "dream team" in most Pakistanis' hearts. Credit: Tighe Barry

Arriving at the judge's home, the activists--an odd assortment of students, small businessmen, accountants, and journalists--ceremoniously carpeted the entrance with rose petals. Armed with bouquets of flowers, they crammed into the judge's living room. One by one, as the judges arrived, the group gave them a standing ovation. In all, thirteen judges appeared. “It was thrilling to be in their presence,” said one journalist. “We are so used to a tarnished image of judges throughout our history who have sold out to military regimes and corrupt governments. Here was a group of judges who were putting the interest of the nation above their self interest. I couldn't believe my eyes.”

The flowers, each with the name of a particular judge, were accompanied by a letter from the students at the prestigious LUMS management school in Lahore. A recent graduate had flown in from Lahore to Karachi just for the occasion. The activists wiped tears from their eyes as they watched the young lawyer paying homage to the sacrifice of his elders and read the moving letter that ended with a tribute: “For your courage and resolve, for your steadfastness, for your selflessness, we salute you. For carrying on the struggle and showing all of Pakistan what a principled stand really means, we congratulate you. For giving us this glimmer of hope, this tangible inspiration, this possibility of change, we thank you.”

The activists said that in their homage to the judges, they were representing the sentiment of the majority of Pakistanis. “Even the flower vendor where we bought the bouquets was moved,” journalist Beena Sarwar told the judges. When he found out who the flowers were for, he insisted on sending a bouquet himself, ‘with love to the judges.'”

Codepink is in Pakistan to show peace and solidarity with its people. A visit with some citizens who want the constitution and the basic human rights restored.Credit: Tighe Barry

The group spent about an hour chatting with the judges, with much laughter and good-hearted banter. It was a rare scene, since judges normally lead very secluded lives because of the nature of their work. They told stories about being put under house arrest after the emergency law was declared on November 3. And they talked with pride about the fact that most of the judges—at both the Supreme Court and the provincial Sindh High Court—refused to take the oath. At the Supreme Court, only 5 of the 17 judges went along with Musharraf's emergency measures.

With the future uncertain, the judges have no idea whether they will ever be able to retake their positions. But the goal of the legal community and their supporters is to pressure the government to restore the Constitution and reinstate the Judiciary.

“Restoring the Constitution and reinstating these judges to the highest courts in the land is more important than elections,” said attorney Tammy Haque. “An independent judiciary is the basis for a democratic state. Without it, you can have all the elections you want, but you won't have a democracy.”

Police forcefully stopped silent protestors who were simply holding banners. Due to intervention by some senior citizens, arrests were avoided. Police has been quite brutal recently in silencing peaceful calls for restoring the constitution and upholding the rule of law.
Credit: Tighe Barry

Day One: Karachi, Pakistan, Sunday, November 25

Let me introduce you to a flash demonstration, Karachi-style. Since the police have been rounding up and jailing people protesting General Musarraf's imposition of martial law on November 3, one of the new tactics is a "flash mob." Today, people gathered along the waterfront at the McDonalds (yes, they hate gathering at McDonalds, but it's a good landmark with a parking lot). The group was small--about 25 people--but they were men and women, young and old. Some women even brought their children. They were well-dressed, well-educated, English-speaking professionals. Most had never participated in a protest before martial law was declared, but they were quickly becoming seasoned activists.

They were delighted that US activists had come to show support. Tighe and I interviewed several of them on camera before the action started. One of the women was a journalist who insisted that journalists must shed the pretense of “objectivity.” When the government starts censoring the press, she said, it's time for all journalists to take a stand. Another women in her 50s was a public health worker who bemoaned the fact that she could not motivate more of her colleagues—doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers—to join the movement. “The lawyers in this country are really the only organized professional sector that is standing up to Musharraf,” she said. “It's understandable that the poor who are struggling everyday to survive cannot afford to protest. But the other professionals should be out here with us. And the political parties, the ones who can really mobilize large numbers of people, should be taking the lead. But they are too busy jockeying for power so it's up to us, the civil society, to lead.”

The group, holding a few banners and posters (one said, in English: “This revolution will not be televised”, referred to the closing of TV stations), began walking along the sidewalk that borders the beach. Part of the action was to quickly spray paint the sidewalk and walls with anti-government slogans. "Most people in Karachi are poor," a young man said, “they can't even afford to buy a newspaper. So writing on the public spaces is a good way to get the word out." They also engaged the people walking and driving by, handing out leaflets calling on the government to release jailed activists and reinstate democratic rule. When a crowd had gathered around, one of the women began to give a speech in Urdu. She was not your typical revolutionary--in fact, this young, beautifully dressed woman worked in a bank. But she was passionate about the need to restore the rule of law and drew applause from the crowd.

As she was talking, you could hear the siren of a police car pulling up. You might think that the group would have dispersed immediately (the women with children did), but most people stayed. One young man who was with the group kept filming as the police approached and started yelling at the crowd to disperse. The police didn't like that, and two of them tried to grab his video camera and threatened to arrest him. Two women immediately intervened, trying to calm the police. They escorted the man to his car, but the police blocked the car. One of the policemen, toting a Kalashnikov, also approached Tighe and wanted his video camera. He started grabbing Tighe's hand, trying to pull him to the police car. Tighe, playing dumb, kept repeating that he was just a tourist, while I grabbed the camera and put it in my purse. The policeman let Tighe go, but the standoff continued with the other man.

So the women huddled and came up with a plan to all jump in the car. “The police are less likely to arrest him if he is surrounded by women,” they reasoned. So five of us, including me (a foreigner was even better protection), squeezed into the car. And sure enough, it worked. They police, exasperated, finally told him to go.

Afterwards, the group met in a local café to “debrief.” The man who almost got arrested was giving high fives to the women. I asked him if he was scared and he shrugged. “I've seen so many others get arrested in these last few weeks,” he said, “I thought it was my turn.” I asked him what he did for a living. “I'm a dentist,” he laughed, “so perhaps my arrest would have gotten some of my colleague out on the streets.”

The group made some decisions for future actions: When the police threaten us, the men should leave and the women should stay because the police have a harder time roughing up women. If one person gets arrested, they should all go with him or her. Next action, tomorrow at the Press Club.

And so it goes here in Pakistan, where lawyers, bank tellers, journalists—and dentists--are taking on a US-backed dictator.

November 23, the day after Thanksgiving.

Tighe Barry at CODEPINK's
Don't Buy Bush's War demonstration in D.C.

Human rights activist Tighe Barry and I are on our way to Pakistan today. It's a bit of a trek--leaving from New York to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), where we have an 11-hour layover, then on to Karachi for a week, then Lahore and perhaps Islamabad.

This is the beginning of what we hope will be an on-going presence of US human rights observers in Pakistan until the elections are scheduled to take place in January.

We've been very troubled by the state of affairs since General Musharraf imposed martial law on November 3. Under the guise of the war on terrorism, he has jailed thousands of lawyers, human rights advocates and opposition leaders. Some have been released, but many remain in prison or under house arrest. He sacked the Supreme Court and then stacked it with his own judges, thereby wiping out an independent judiciary. And he clamped down on the press, closing several stations and restricting others.

So we are going to learn more about the situation, hoping to interview the lawyers and activists who have been victimized by the crackdown. We'll get their stories and learn how we can be of support as they take great risks to bring the rule of law back to their country.

With the US government shoring up Musharraf and continuing to give millions of our taxdollars to his regime every month, we in the US have a great responsibility toward the people of Pakistan. That's why this trip--and hopefully the subsequent delegations--are so important.

Click here for a description of the delegations and their purpose. We hope you'll help us spread the word, so that more people from the US will join us or donate funds so that others can come.

Thanks so much,
Medea Benjamin
Cofounder, Global Exchange
and CODEPINK: Women for Peace