PAKISTAN: Meet Sadia Khan: The Pakistani Woman 'With a Price on Her Head' for Protesting Against Abuses

Friday, May 9, 2014
International Business Times
Southern Asia
Sri Lanka
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Human Rights

As the recent abduction of nearly 300 Nigerian girls by terror group Boko Haram sheds light on the dramatic situation of women's rights in many countries, IBTimesUK has decided to tell the story of Sadia Khan, a Pakistani refugee in Sri Lanka, who fears she might be killed by Pakistani authorities.

"People think that in Pakistan crimes are committed only by the Taliban," the young activist told IBTimesUK.

Khan, 29, comes from a Christian Pashtun family in Baluchistan, Pakistan.

She has always been interested in human rights and, at a very early age, she started writing about abuses occurring in her country - carried out by fundamentalists and members of the government - with the hope that her words could pave the way to social justice.

Her blog, however, was soon noticed by the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence in Pakistan), who she claims tried to quell her voice.

"I was writing a book about the Pakistani ISI.

"There was an army operation going on in the country: The army would kill those who were against Taliban.

"Somebody started following me, as soon as they knew I was writing the book."

Fearing for her life due to her investigative work, Khan, along with her 10-year-old sister Amala and their mother, say they fled to Sri Lanka in January 2012.

Khan kept publishing blog posts under the fake name of Khizra Khan Yousafzai.

The three women applied with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR to be recognised as asylum seekers in Sri Lanka, but their request was rejected.

Khan was accused of being a spy for India by the Sri Lankan government, who confiscated the three women's documents and took them to a detention camp, where they stayed for one month.

During the detention, Khan suffered a minor heart attack.

The three women fled the detention centre on 8 April 2013.

Khan started contacting journalists, asking them to write about her situation.

The Colombo Gazzette and the Cristian Post were the only publications that reported her story.

The Sri Lankan UNHCR eventually approved Khan and her family's asylum requests in November 2013, thanks to newly arrived senior RSD officer (Refugee Status Determination) Ilija Todorovic. Later, another "very helpful" resettlement officer Joseph Carroll joined UNHCR Colombo.

"If those two guys were not here, I would be dead," Khan said. "They are the decision makers, but none from the other staff helped me. UNHCR local staff is working for their own government.

"For one long year they refused to talk to me. They literally ruined my life."

Khan says the Sri Lankan government is still in possession of the three women's passports, stopping them from leaving the country.

"Sri lanka is playing games, they are not holding any meeting with them [Todorovic and Carroll], they are holding our passports because they want to take me to the detention centre," Khan said.

Carroll confirmed to IBTimesUK that Khan's family has been granted refugee status in Sri Lanka.

Living as refugees

"We now live separate from our mother," Khan said.

The two sisters keep moving from house to house as soon as the landlords ask for their documents.

"We come up with an excuse that we are going to my aunt, for example, and we leave.

"We live in fear. When we go out, I wear a burqa with a fully covered face and my sister is disguised as a boy."

The two sisters have written about their precarious situation on blogs and social media. They also have a Google+ page and a YouTube channel and a petition on

In one video posted on YouTube, Khan is shown cutting herself in protest at her situation. Although her face is visible, she does not fear she will be recognised.

"Even at home I show very little part of my face, there is no way someone can recognise me from the video."

After more than two years living in hiding, and constantly fearing for her life, Khan's anger towards the Sri Lankan government is growing. But she is very determined to have her rights recognised.

"Please write my story," she said. "This will bring shame to the Sri Lanka government and will help me to leave this country, that's all I want."