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Pak blocks Mukhtar Mai from speaking at UN

January 21, 2006 15:02 IST

Pakistan on Friday forced the United Nations to block Mukhtar Mai from speaking at the world body headquarters around the time Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz held a press conference.

Mai, whose defiant response to being gang-raped on the orders of a village council in Pakistan has made her a champion of women's causes, was scheduled to speak at the UN on Friday.

But as Aziz's press conference was around the same time, Pakistani officials sought postponement of her appearance in the programme called An Interview With Mukhtar Mai: The Bravest Women On Earth in UN television studio.

'Don't single out Pakistan over women's rights'

Thursday night, the UN informed the sponsor NGOs - the Virtue Foundation and the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights - that the programme would have to be postponed, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Since she is leaving on Saturday, it effectively means cancellation.

Confronted with the development at his press conference, Aziz flatly denied any knowledge about it and told reporters that he had come to know about it only from them.

Rosa Parks of Pakistan in NYC

"I have no idea. You have informed me and so have some other people as I was walking in. I do not know how the place functions," he said and went on for next five minutes to explain what all the Pakistani government had done for emancipation of women and expressing full support for Mai.

Asked why the UN bowed to the Pakistani protest, Shashi Tharoor, under-secretary general for communications, said he could not comment on this specific case.

"As a general principle, indeed there are written instructions guiding the holding of any event on United Nations premises in which we are obliged to take into account views formally expressed by member states. This is a building and an organisation that belongs to the member states," said Tharoor, during Aziz's press conference.

In an interview with the Times, Mai said, "I feel disappointed. I was not going to say anything bad about Pakistan. I was just going to talk about my work and what people are doing."

Recounting the 11th-hour nature of the decision, Joseph Salim, the executive director of the Virtue Foundation, a New York-based human rights charity, told the paper, "On Friday, as we were going about a walk-through, getting our ID badges, they suddenly told us that because this event was considered by the Pakistan government as embarrassing to them, they were going to block it."

An e-mail message from Meena Sur of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs on Thursday night informed the organisers that the event had to be postponed until sometime after January 24, the Times reported.

Neither she nor Michele Fedoroff, the deputy head of the section, who had conveyed the same message in a telephone call, responded to the Times' messages seeking explanation.

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