A lawyer representing civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan has accused the US government of blocking his appearance at a conference in Washington this month by failing to grant him a visa.
Shahzad Akbar, who founded the Islamabad-based human rights organisation Foundation for Fundamental Rights, says he has failed to secure a visa since he began suing the CIA over the killing of Pakistani civilians by US drones. The case is expected to be heard this month in Islamabad.
Sponsors of the drone summit Killing and Spying by Remote Control, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve and the peace group Code Pink, have criticised the failure to grant a visa to Akbar, who they say provides a much-needed voice for the victims of drone strikes in tribal Pakistan.
Speaking from Pakistan by telephone, Akbar said: “Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the US government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world. The CIA, which operated the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have a right to know.”
He was due to be a key speaker at the Washington conference on 28-29 April. It aims to “inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including drone use in the United States” and promised participants the opportunity to listen to the personal stories of Pakistani drone-strike victims, according to its website.
It is the second time that Akbar, who has been granted US visas in the past, has tried and failed to enter the US to speak at an event addressing human rights concerns over the use of drones.