US blogger accuses Pak ex-home minister of rape, ex-PM of harassment

An American blogger, who has lived in Pakistan for more than 10 years and is known for her pro-army stance, has accused a former interior minister of raping her and a former prime minister and health minister of harassing her.

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All three politicians have denied the charges, and in two instances have filed a complaint with the country’s law enforcement agencies to investigate the matter further. This is the latest controversy involving Cynthia Ritchie, a combative social media influencer whom most outside of Pakistan would never heard of.

Ritchie posted a Facebook live video on Friday in which she named former interior minister Rahman Malik, currently a member of the Senate or upper house of Parliament, of $exually assaulting her. She also accused former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani and former health minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin of harassing her. All three politicians belong to the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).

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This Facebook video was the latest in a series of exchanges between Ritchie and the leadership of the PPP, which has been incensed by the barrage of accusations flung their way by the American.

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Ritchie started the current spat by accusing late prime minister Benazir Bhutto of having ordered the rape of those women she suspected were having relations with her husband, Asif Ali Zardari. As on many occasions in the past, Ritchie offered no evidence to substantiate her allegations that have been described by several commentators as bizarre.

While Zardari did not react to the accusation, the PPP’s senior leadership responded by asking who Ritchie was, who had authorised her stay in Pakistan, and what her source of income was, given that she did not seem to be engaged in any work with remuneration.

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Details were leaked from both sides – the PPP accused Ritchie of being a troll funded by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency while Ritchie questioned the actions of PPP leaders.

In one bizarre gaffe, Ritchie posted a picture of Murtaza Wahab, a provincial minister from the PPP, standing next to a scantily dressed woman and accused him of being immoral. Wahab clarified the woman in question was a wax model at Madame Tussauds in London.

Ritchie has accused PPP leaders of links with Gulf-based businessmen and alleged they were involved in a number of scams – all without any evidence whatsoever.

So far the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, which is perceived as being close to the army, has taken no action despite a number of complaints filed against Ritchie with the cybercrime wing of the Federal Investigation Agency.

In her latest accusation, Ritchie said her “ordeal” took place at Rehman Malik’s official residence in the ministers’ enclave in Islamabad in 2011 around the time “when the Osama Bin Laden incident happened”.

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“I thought it was a meeting about my visa but I was given flowers [and] a drugged drink,” she claimed, adding she had “kept quiet” about the incident because “who in the [ruling government] would help me against the [accused minister]?”

Cynthia said she also informed the US embassy in 2011 about the incident, adding that “owing to fluid and complex Pak-US relations, the response was less than adequate”.

In a tweet, exiled political commentator Aisha Siddiqa said the Pakistani establishment may be wanting to put pressure on the PPP leadership ahead of moves to roll back the 18th amendment to the Constitution. This amendment was passed by the former PPP government and gives enhanced powers to the democratic civilian government and to the provinces.

Many commentators and experts in Pakistan also believe Ritchie – who has never shied away from flaunting her connections to the military on social media and often takes up nationalistic causes in her social media posts – could be acting at the behest of the powerful security establishment.

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