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Interview with Amina Masood wife of Masood Janjua

March 23, 2007

With the disappearance of her husband in 2005, Amina Masood Janjua has become the face of the disappearances in Pakistan. Spearheading the organisation, Defence for Human Rights, she has campaigned unrelentingly in her aim to see not only the release of her husband, but also the release of all the other men who have been caught by the indiscriminate detention policies of the Pakistani intelligence services. Speaking to Asim Qureshi of Cageprisoners and Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve, she goes through a telling tale of the way the detentions have affected the lives of so many.

Cageprisoners (CP): Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Amina Masood (AM): I am Amina Masood and my husband, Masood Ahmad Janjua, is missing for the last one year and two months.

CP: Could you please tell us a bit more about your husband’s situation, who was he, what was his background?

AM: He is basically an educationalist, he was running an IT college and he is a businessman basically. In his mind, new ideas are coming all the time. He is extremely intelligent, almost like a genius, and whichever field he comes in to, he is likely to excel in that. So he came into education, he excelled at that, and became very well known in education circles. He then came into this business of travel agency which he was doing well at and he was also a social worker.

CP: What was he like as a person?

AM: The circumstances were like this. Most of his friends were people with religious ideas, they believed in the preaching and practise of Islam, it is not just praying five times a day, and you have to be more responsible for all your human beings. You have to look out for all fellow human beings, your earnings should not just be for yourself, God has given you the money for those who are less fortunate and who are deprived. He believed in these things and wanted to help a lot. He believed that we should keep for ourselves the bare minimum, only a few dresses and a couple of pairs of shoes, that would be enough. He never believed in too much decoration, he believed in simplicity.

CP: How long have you been married?

AM: 16 years and this is the 17th year.

CP: How many children do you have?

AM: I have three children. The eldest is Muhammad, he is going to be 17 in March. The second one is Ali who just 15, and Aisha is 10 years old. My husband is very fond of children, and he used to spend a lot of time with them. These children, I cannot be how normal they are and how they are facing this situation in such a normal way because they were never close to me, they hardly knew anything about me. They would never come to me, always taking the side of their father. Abu (father) is our superhero, Abu is like this or that, everything started with him and ended with him. They were not fond of me, they would always say that Ami (mother) is always shouting, always scolding, always telling us to behave properly.

CP: What were the circumstances leading up to your husband’s arrest?

AM: He used to like to go an do Tabligh (preach about Islam), when he was going it was only three weeks after the 7/7 bombings had taken place, so after three weeks maybe this could be one reason. There could have been a mistake by the government, there could have possibly been a misunderstanding of some kind or he has resembled someone…maybe.

CP: What happened when got picked up?

AM: Actually nobody knows what actually happened…we only have assumptions. He was supposed to be travelling on the bus, he had his tickets booked on the bus, but he was never on it and he never reached his destination. The distance was only about 2 km. He must have vanished somewhere between our house and the bus stop.

CP: How was he travelling between the home and the bus stop?

AM: He said he was going to take a taxi, he left the house through the front gate and literally only had to turn the corner to get to the main road which he would have been able to take the taxi. I was standing outside watching him go, and I remember that at that time I had a very strange feeling, I just wanted to run after him and stop him from going. I don’t know why…I just wanted to say to him please don’t go. Even when he turned the corner, my heart sank. However he is a very strong minded person, and I know that if I did a thing of that kind, he would laugh at me and tell me that I am crazy.

CP: Was he supposed to meet anyone at the bus stop?

AM: He was supposed to meet Faisal Faraz. The same thing happened to him, there was no trace of him since then. We hardly know what actually happened, it is all assumptions because Faisal called in the morning asking Masood where he was and how long he would be as they would get late for the bus. Nobody saw Faisal, maybe he was already captured.

CP: How do you know that he never made it on to the bus?

AM: We asked the bus stop, the Daewoo bus service is a very proper set up and they keep full details of everyone that boards one of their buses, it is a very good system. When a person does not show on the bus, it is kept on the record that he did not do so. They do not issue tickets unless you are seated.

CP: Did any agency admit to you that they have Masood and Faisal in custody?

AM: Yes they did, but quite late, however only indirectly. They never admitted it themselves to me. There was a colonel working in the college, who knew somebody who asked someone else and the other person asked somebody else. It was a very long process. Every single person tried to keep themselves safe not wanting to admit that they have any information. It came to us in the end that he was with an agency and that he would be released at some point.

CP: When did you find out any news about him?

AM: It was about three months that we heard anything for the first time, and then we heard some things again after another few months. Constantly after a couple of months through our own efforts we were hearing things. We were not sitting still, through our own efforts we were trying to track his whereabouts, meeting so many different people. We went to meet the friends in Peshawar that he was supposed to be with and so many others. We called them here, we were investigating things all the time.

CP: Has Faisal’s family heard anything at all?

AM: Faisal’s family…only recently they have been receiving phone calls but until now they had nothing. The phone calls were coming from one of the intelligence agencies. They wouldn’t specify which agency. They were asking details like where is your house, what are the other details of where you live and your numbers. They were even asking me a couple of days back about Faisal’s family. They were asking me questions about where Faisal lived and my knowledge of those other families who have disappeared.

CP: How do your husband and Faisal know one another?

AM: The friendship was probably only about a year. The main reason that it came about is that they were the same kind of person, otherwise there is no match in the ages. My husband is 45 and Faisal is 25. So there is a large gap between the two. It didn’t make any difference though, as they were exactly alike. They got very close in this one year. There was a third person, Imran, who was working in the same company as Faisal, and it was Imran who introduced them to one another as he recognised how similar they were. Imran is a really old friend of Masood.

CP: Were Faisal’s family ever questioned about his movements abroad

AM: I don’t think there were any questions regarding this. You see the family are very simple people and I don’t think they were asked anything like this. Faisal was living with his mother in Lahore, his father dies some time ago, he was living alone with his mother in Lahore. They never had any idea that any agency was watching them. Faisal is a very innocent type of person, he was only trying to memorise the Qur’an by himself, he would spend most of his time trying to memorise by listening to cassettes. He was always encouraging his mother to find out the meaning of the Qur’an rather than just reading the Arabic.

CP: Do you know if Masood was ever questioned before he disappeared?

AM: No, because if he had that kind of thing, he would have obviously told me, or I would have felt he was hiding something. We were so close to each other, we could never really think of hiding anything.

CP: Has anyone come to ask you any questions or had any contact at all other than the recent call?

AM: There was a call from the President’s House that came from the Military Secretary to the President who contacted my father-in-law. He said that Masood was alive and that he will come back soon and that he was seen somewhere, their informers told them this after they rotated his photograph. We were told he would be coming home soon.

That came because of on Eid [Muslim festival], my father-in-law went to an army get-together and there raised the issue of his son’s disappearance. He had written a petition to find his son, he was senior to President Musharraf at one point. He went directly to the President who then said that he would find out. That was 11th January 2006, and the phone call came 31st May.

CP: Has your husband travelled abroad at all recently?

AM: Being a travel agent he did travel a lot. He went to the Far East, Middle East, all over the world in fact. He would go to attend seminars and courses for travel agents. A lot of travel agents are gathered there and they educate each other. We travelled together to Switzerland.

CP: Did he ever travel with the Tablighi Jamaat abroad?

AM: No, he never went with them abroad. He was a member of the organisation.

CP: You said that he had been running an IT college, how long had he been doing that?

AM: Over the last nine years. Before opening the college he was a professional travel agent, but his agency was running at a huge loss at that time. So he switched over to the college and closed down the agency. Another friend then came on the scene who wanted to establish another travel agency and wanted Masood to run it as someone with a lot of experience. Masood didn’t really want to switch over again, as he was already so well established in education then, but this friend insisted constantly that he would have to run it as he already had all the contacts with all the companies whom he left on good terms with. Things were going very smoothly for him.

CP: On a more personal level, could you please explain how this has affected you and your children?

AM: It has affected us badly, the way we were living, hardly anyone mattered for us. We had our own world, we were so peaceful and happy. My kids were so attached to him, everything was so perfect in our lives. There has never been any illness, never any hard feelings or misunderstandings, no quarrelling, nothing at all. People would always comment on how is it possible that we would live in such an ideal way, that we would never speak ill of one another, that we would happily spend the majority of our time with one another. Every second or third month we would go somewhere with one another, to Murree, to hilly areas, to the northern areas; we would spend a couple of days just relaxing.

My children were so used to going to places, all the time they were saying lets go here or lets go there, lets go to Islamabad or got to eat outside. All the time they were brought up like this. They had no idea that things could be like this as well, not going anywhere, just staying at home all the time. Most of all the hardest part is that person you love most is nowhere, you can’t find him, you don’t know where he is, where he has gone, you just don’t know for how long he will be away, who took him and why. These are all very hard and pinching questions, I have to make stories up to myself, how will I make my children understand.

The one thing that I always give my children is to constantly remind them that their father is a perfect gentleman, and that no matter what, he will come back. I am giving them this confidence, and I give it to them so strongly that they believe it. I tell them and they believe it. We talk about him all the time, I tell them that when their father comes back that he will be happy about this, and angry at that, so that they feel he is still part of their routine.

I do tell my children however that it is ok to cry, for when I miss him a lot, then it makes me cry and they see that. My daughter Aisha asks me why I’m crying, and I tell her that it is ok to do so because I miss him and it is a relief. I also feel that when I am crying, I feel that those prayers that I make at that time are the ones that will be answered.

I sometimes wish at times that I could say something bad to those people that have kept him. I tried to make an ill prayer for them, but I cannot. I feel that maybe they were forced to do this thing, they were not doing it from their heart. They were just obeying someone else’s orders. It is the system that is at fault, not just today, but from 50 years ago, innocent people that are against the policies of the government have been made to disappear.

CP: Could you please give details of any contact that you have had with the intelligence services?

AM: On 1st July 2006, someone spoke to us, he said he was from an agency at a junior level so he could not do much. He said that he could only give a brief description of what happened. He said that they were picked up in Rawalpindi and that they were kept in cell 20 of I-9 district in Islamabad. He went on to say that your mobile, it is not safe, whatever you are talking about I can intercept – I heard you talking to Javed Ibrahim Paracha, you were talking to him and then told me the contents of that conversation. Maybe it was his duty to intercept my calls…maybe.

We believed him because we were so hopeful when someone tells us something, or anything. We say that this person must be sincere. Both my father-in-law and I thought that he must be sincere and that obviously wants to help us. He told us that we can contact Colonel Habibullah at cell 20 in I-9 and we can ask him why he was kept there. He told me that he would contact us after two days by which time I must have a new cell phone because even changing the SIM will not work. He told us to change the cell phone and the SIM, and that on that one we would coordinate with him alone and no one else. That was the way he was guiding us. We had no choice, we had to believe him.

On the third day, he came to us again and said to us, ok give us the numbers that Masood was using. Which numbers was Masood calling to anywhere in the world, his friends, colleagues or wherever. We were so fooled, I don’t know whether we should have given them or not, but we did. He said that as he was in that department, he would be able to help. He told us that by number maybe my husband was in Kashmir where they keep people for longer periods. There are two cells there, one is Shaukat Killa and one is Amoor Camp. He even gave the names of these places so we were convinced he was telling the truth. He told us that they were holding people there in these prisons, and that it was very possible Masood could be there. He said that over there people are detained for longer periods, those who are under investigation or are still in the process.

This was all very surprising for us. That after one year and two months they had not found out anything. What were they expecting to find out, why would they hold him for such a long period? If they are failing in finding out any intelligence, they should hand him over to a proper law department.

CP: Did you try to speak to Colonel Habibullah from cell 20 in I-9?

AM: Yes, my father-in-law talked to the Colonel. However that colonel was not encouraging, he was just closing the chapter of this whole affair. He said he was not with them in that cell, that he had never seen Masood or ever come across his name.

CP: Could you please tell us about this organisation that you are part of, Defence for Human Rights?

AM: I just happened to come in it when I had no where else to go. From every direction I had no answer. From government to judiciary, I knew nothing at all. I contacted Khalid Khawaja through a mutual friend. I did not know him at all, but was told that he was a very nice person who would guide us, and that already he had been guiding families in a similar position as myself. We were blank and did not know where to go.

I was happy to find him, and when we finally did, he was very cooperative saying that we did not have anything to worry about, things are difficult, but when we put pressure on the government, avenues do open up. At least they would put some false charges on the person and then they would open it to the courts. They would present him and open the matter. This is only a month ago, in August.

CP: What does the organisation seek to do?

AM: I became so active, because you know I had to do something. I cannot do it on my own. I contacted Faisal’s mother, and told her that if she wanted to find her son, she would have to work and that she would be with me all the way. She agreed and said that whatever I would suggest, she would do. Faisal’s mother is with me, and then we contacted this third family that I read about in the newspaper, Atiek-ur-Rehman, who was picked up on his wedding day and he was a scientist. The scientists are under interrogation these days.

I contacted all these families and I notified them about the protest we were going to stage in Islamabad and tried to convince them that they should come there. I explained that we would be making banners asking the judiciary and Mr President to help our situation. So far we have 21 families who have joined this cause, but more are joining.

Subhanallah, it is amazing, that Allah SWT always helps, that when it looks like all the doors are closed, then one always opens. I haven’t got anything, my husband is still missing, but I still have hope. Not just for myself, but for so many other people. I feel pressurised to help the other families, even if nothing happens for me, because I now have an obligation to them. So many people are hoping, they have such high hopes in me to help them. May Allah help us, for I am nothing, I can’t do anything. It is Khalid Khawaja and others who are guiding me, telling me how I should act and what steps I should take next. I have never done anything like this before.

Amina Masood, thank you for taking the time to speak to us.

  Image used courtesy of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan

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Interview with Amina Masood wife of Masood Janjua
Interview with Amina Masood wife of Masood Janjua