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Wednesday Jun 10 2020

Cynthia’s allegations: Myth or reality?

American blogger Cynthia D. Ritchie. Photo: File

Last week, an American blogger and documentary maker, Cynthia D Ritchie, made a startling claim. In a video message, she said she was raped by Pakistan’s former interior minister, Rehman Malik, and sexually harassed by the former prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, and ex-health minister, Makhdoom Shahabuddin.

The allegations are far too serious to ignore, primarily because this case goes beyond being between the accuser and accused. The reputations of the country and key state offices are also at stake.

It is imperative for the PPP, a political party that was led by a woman of international repute, who always stood for women’s rights, to clear its name, even if it feels it has been wronged.

Now the question is, how does one proceed in a case where the crime was allegedly committed nine years ago? Why, many are asking, has Ritchie decided to talk about this now? What evidence does she have? And is her evidence strong enough to hold in a court of law?

In a video posted online, the blogger said that she has already approached the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Pakistan. If the FIA’s cybercrime wing will be probing this then they will require her mobile and computer records over the years. They will seek the same data from the accused.

The men, Ritchie hold’s responsible, have all denied the charges but they do not deny meeting her at least once in the past.

Rape allegations must be followed up with a medical or forensic report to prove the crime took place. It is unclear if the American national got herself medically examined back in 2011, when she alleges that the unfortunate incident happened.

Another piece of evidence that could support her claim would be an eye-witness account. Someone who saw Malik and Ritchie meeting at his official residence. Since she is the victim, and the complainant, in this case, her statement along with whatever evidence she has would be key to the investigation.

As a next step, the investigators would need to reach out to the US Embassy. Last week, Ritchie did say that she told a staff member of the embassy about the crime back in 2011. The long silence from the diplomatic staff seems a little surprising.

The US Embassy is known to provide its nationals legal assistance, if and when needed.

A former FIA officer, who has in the past dealt with such cases involving American citizens, told me, on the condition of anonymity, that it was not possible for Ritchie to have approached the Embassy's “Welfare Officer” to record her statement and in return, the officer did not assist her.

“In my experience, the minute the Embassy knows about any of its citizens in trouble they reach out to him/her and provide assistance,” he said, “We once caught criminals, who were American nationals. The Embassy provided them legal assistance. When I asked the Officer why he did it. He said it was part of his job.”

Once the probe begins, the investigators could question the guards, drivers, and other staff who were present at Malik’s house on that day. They can also look into the text message exchanges and take note of the visitors’ records at the President House.

Other claims can be verified as well, for instance, as the blogger says, former prime minister Gilani hugged her in an “inappropriate way” at an event at the president house. This can be checked by talking to witnesses.

That said, it is also important, and essential, to investigate why the US blogger has been in Pakistan for nearly 10 years. What work has she been doing? What visa is she staying on? How many times did she visit the United States between 2011 and 2020?

Did she register a complaint with the US authorities about the alleged incident?

Meanwhile, Malik has sent a Rs500 million defamation notice to Ritchie, demanding an apology, failing which a case will be filed in court.

Moreover, last week, before the blogger posted the videos, she made serious allegations against two-time prime minister, the late Benazir Bhutto. Ritchie now says that what she said about Bhutto was allegedly shared with her by a senior PPP leader.

Since Ritchie went public with the allegations, multiple photographs of her with senior and important personalities have been doing the rounds on social media. One thing is for sure, she had a unique level of access.

That in itself requires a separate investigation.

After the 2013 elections, she once also approached the then interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. The minister during his five-year term took a harsh stance against international NGOs working in Pakistan and against foreigners staying for a long period of time in the country.

As for now, the government should constitute a high-level Joint Investigation Team (JIT) comprising of top criminal investigators from the police and intelligence agencies.

There is no doubt that in a society like ours, there have been cases of moral lapses, which have involved our political leaders in the past. Now if the allegations by Ritchie prove to be true, the PPP should stand with her to get her justice.

But if she fails to prove her case, then the state needs to know why she made these allegations in the first place.

Abbas is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO