Why this US citizen is at the centre of controversy in Pakistan

Why a US blogger is at the centre of controversy in Pakistan
Cynthia Ritchie has accused PPP leader of rape, creates controversy in Pakistan. Source: Al Jazeera
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Daily US Times: It’s been nine years since US forces conducted the deadly raid on the compound of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad. Bin Laden’s whereabouts had been confirmed by DNA tests done under the guise of a fake anti-polio campaign run by local health officials in 2011. She is not the centre of controversy in Pakistan.

Cynthia Ritchie, an American, who worked for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province’s health ministry, which collected the samples from Abbottabad. She started coming to the region two years prior to the raid, but later says her presence in the KPK’s health ministry at the time was “a coincidence”.

Her apparent free access to the country’s remote tribal region and, by her own admission, tacit support by the security forces, have raised eyebrows in Pakistan.

It is a country where foreign journalists often face hurdles in reporting.

“Tribal areas were out of bounds without permissions, and Balochistan even harder. The military could be sensitive (about criticism), of course, but they had nothing like the kind of clout they have now,” A foreign correspondent who was expelled from Pakistan told Al Jazeera.

Ritchie denied herself as a journalist. In her social media, she has shared her photos with uniformed security officers but has denied of being hired or working for any security agency inside or outside Pakistan.

Local media of Pakistan reported that the military also denied any links to Ritchie.

But these are not the reasons why the Louisiana State University graduate is at the centre of a massive controversy in Pakistan.

Allegation of rape

Ritchie has lived in Pakistan on and off since 2009. She has a powerful outreach among the country’s social media users. Her videos focusing on the people and culture of Pakistan getting millions of hits.

The blogger came to talk of the country after she accused former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of ordering the rape of the women with whom her husband, former President Asif Ali Zardari, had an affair. Her statement creates a lot of controversy in Pakistan

Cynthia Dawn Ritchie has been living on and off in Pakistan since 2009. Source: Facebook

She said she had all the evidence required to back her claims, but which local political analysts denounced her claims as ”bizarre”.

She has yet to share the apparent evidence to defend her claims amid huge controversy in Pakistan

Millions of Bhutto supporters outraged by her claims what forced to one female senator of the main opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) writing letters to authorities accusing Ritchie of “willfully leaking private and photo-shopped photographs, private information, personal and tampered documents without authorisation and exploiting them in public using her social media, abusing cyberspace and violating PECA [the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act] laws with a malicious intention to harm, humiliate, pressurise and blackmail personalities targeted by her”.

After formal complaints were filed against her, she accused politicians from Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), including former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, of inappropriate physical conduct. She also posted a video accusing former Interior Minister Rehman Malik of rape.

She told: “I have also experienced great horrors in this country. I also reported this and communicated this with the US embassy several days after the event. I was stunned, I was shocked; I reported it to an individual and the US embassy has these details.”

“Their response was less than adequate. And let me tell you why I believe it was less than adequate – because of one word: ‘f politics’, politics! They did not want to disrupt what was going on in the country. So my rape was kept quiet, and I was offered to go home.”

The US embassy in Pakistan says, due to privacy considerations, it cannot comment on a private citizen unaffiliated with the US government but added that the embassy “provides appropriate services and support to all Americans in Pakistan”.

But she said all the incidents date back to 2011, when she began working for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The party’s leader Imran Khan is now the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

She said she finally convinced herself to go public. She said: “I understand that it can be confusing for a lot of people. Those who have endured abuse don’t always come forward straight away.”

She has described former Minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin as “a skirt chaser”.

Politicians named in her allegations, including former Gilani, Malik and Shahbuddin, have denied the allegations. They have sent multiple legal notices to Ritchie and asked the government that she should be prevented from leaving the country.

Divert attention

Politicians of PPP accused Imran Khan’s government and high rank military officials  of using Ritchie to divert attention from the government’s failure to handle the coronavirus crisis and address the economic crisis.

But Ritchie did confirm reports that she had accepted an amount of $2,500 from the former interior minister after her alleged rape in 2011.

“I know how that looks … Nobody bothered to ask me what I did with the money. Yes, I was financially strapped, but there were also young children and faculty members at the National Health Institute who were very kind to me. I had that money converted to local currency and gave it to people who were struggling more than I was,” she said.

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