Pakistan’s #MeToo movement in the celebrity case hanging in the balance global development

It takes a lot to shake Lena Ghani. As an artist who helps raise the voice of Pakistani women as activists, she has often been abused, threatened and harassed.

But when he learned one morning in late September that police had charged him with criminal defamation, related to Pakistan’s highest profile #MeToo case, Ghani said he was shocked. “In terms of silencing and abusing people who speak out against rape, it was a new low, even for Pakistan,” he said.

Ghani was not alone. The case also named eight other people who were sentenced to three years in prison for criminal defamation. Some learned about their involvement through just one Newspaper article.

Lawyers say the case has exposed how cyber-defamation laws passed under the guise of protecting women from online harassment are being used instead of silencing Pakistan’s victims of sexual exploitation. Are

On December 16Officials say there is enough evidence to bring Ghani and others to justice. And the future of Pakistan’s #MeToo movement is now in balance.

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Mesha Shafi, whose 2018 tweet started Pakistan’s #MeToo movement. Photographer: IFC Films / Courtesy Evert C / REX

The movement began in April 2018 after singer and actress Mesha Shafi, who starred in Reluctant Fundamentalist, sent a tweet alleging sexual harassment.

Shafi alleged that he was “sexually harassed on multiple occasions,” by Ali Zafar, one of Pakistan’s most beloved celebrities. By giving the speech, Shafi hopes to “break the culture of silence in our society,” Shafi wrote.

Zafar Denies “All kinds of harassment allegations against me by Ms. Shafi”, and so far she has successfully defeated the sexual harassment allegations she filed against her in court.

The allegations have been made in Pakistan’s deeply conservative Islamic society, where women are less likely to speak out against the attack. Infidelity spread because of Zafar’s popularity, but dozens of women and men appeared on social media in support of Shafi, many of whom accused him of attacking Zafar.

Among them was Ghani, who said his concerns about Zafar’s treatment of women arose after a friendship in 2014. Writing on Twitter, Ghani accused Zafar of treating him with “inappropriate contact,” including a clear lack of respect for women. groping, sexual comments “.

“You are hiding from him,” after reading Ghani’s post, hoping you won’t see him again with his sharp eyes and hands. His hands do not make your back up or down or hold you tight when you try hard to run and run.

Leena Ghani

Pakistani activist Lena Ghani says the charges against her are “a new shortcoming for Pakistan as well”. Photograph: Arif Ali / AFP / Getty Images

Following similar allegations. Blogger Hamna Raza alleged that Zafar had infiltrated him into a program, while a journalist, Mahim Javed, narrated an alleged incident on Twitter, saying that Zafar “kissed my cousin and took my cousin with him to the room. Tried to pull in. Luckily, my cousin’s friends were there.

Zafar has accused Shafi of running a social media campaign against him. According to newspaper reports, he said he could not believe that “anyone can come forward and accuse someone who has worked hard for more than two decades – just On social media. “

Zafar filed a civil defamation suit against Shafi, demanding Rs 1 billion in damages. The court accepted the lawsuit and ordered Shafi’s rape, which still prevents him from discussing the allegations in public.

Over the next two and a half years, Zafar appeared on his telephone to defend his name in a dozen television shows, sometimes shedding tears and occasionally accompanying his wife. He alleged that the allegations were made by the Sameer campaign, which was carried out by a group of women who had created fake accounts and had been financed by foreign money. Last month, Pakistan’s president awarded Zafar the Pride of Pakistan, one of the country’s greatest honors.

In July 2018, Shafi also initiated legal action, trying to take Zafar to court on charges of sexual harassment in the workplace. His case was dropped on the grounds that independent workers were not covered by the law. The appeal in the Lahore High Court failed and although his lawyers have challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, the case has not yet been heard.

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Mesha Shafi is still awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision in his sexual harassment case. Photo: Michael Luciano / Getty Images

In November 2018, rumors began circulating that Zafar had also filed criminal charges against Shafi and his 25 online supporters and co-accused with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Pakistan’s most powerful investigative body. Were

As of July 2019, dozens of people, especially women, who had either made allegations against Zafar or expressed support for Shafi, had written posts on social media before the FIA ​​for questioning. Notices to appear began to be received.

They included Ghani, Javed and Raza, as well as an actor, Iftikhar Omar, who knew Shafi and Zafar personally. When Zafar claimed on television that the women who supported Shafi were being paid by the West to spread propaganda, Omar wrote on his social media, “Harass the liar.”

Omar and Ghani were questioned by the FIA ​​and both separately alleged that they had been pressured by officers to withdraw their allegations against Zafar and apologize. Both refused. Senior FIA officials were later in the case Suspended The tweet accused him of being “Ali Zafar’s personal spokesman” on social media. The FIA ​​declined to comment on the case.

Posters highlighting Ali Zafar

Photography in a poster featuring Ali Zafar, one of Pakistan’s most beloved celebrities: Everett Collection Inc. / Global

At least three women have also accused Zafar of using “indirect harassment” through social networks. Omar says he has received a clear message from Ali Zafar that if I just apologize, everything will be better for me. And I have given a direct answer that this is not happening.

Ghani alleged that “Zafar also tried to reach me through my family and would send cruel messages through third parties about my family’s problems.” Lots of dirty tricks. He was trying to force me to apologize and I will admit that it was terrible.

But in late 2019, when he filed a lawsuit against Zafar and the FIA ​​for harassment and Javed wrote to the Senate Human Rights Committee to complain, everything fell silent. Until September 2020, when the charges were dropped.

Nine people, including Shafi, Ghani, Omar, Javed and Raza, and four men were charged by the FIA’s cybercrime wing with defamation of Zafar’s alleged social media “characterization”. He was sentenced to three years in prison on those charges.

There was confusion as to why only nine cases were registered in this case when there were 25 names in the original list. But then, Javed says, the money ran out: “We realized we were the only ones who refused to apologize to Zafar.”

One of the accused, journalist Haseem Al-Zaman, is facing charges of tweets claiming that “Ali Zafar harassed women”. He refused to apologize. “It will not only damage my future and my journalistic reputation, but it will also harm anyone who escapes sexual harassment who will come forward in the future,” he said. “And I couldn’t live with it.”

Following the news of the criminal charges being dropped, Ghani and others faced online rape and death threats and harassment, and say they were badly affected by the Pakistani media.

A week later, blogger Raza created a new Twitter account and published a handwritten note withdrawing his allegations against Zafar and apologizing for the “inconvenience” he caused to himself and his family. Was Zafar shared a tweet. Raza’s name has been removed from the case.

For women, the most severe punishment was the law under which they were charged. The Electronic Crimes Act was partially passed in 2016 to protect women from online harassment, but the FIA’s wing has made it ineffective to deal with cases that are ineffective.

Shafi’s lawyer, Nighat Dad, says he knows dozens of women who have complained to the FIA ​​about online abuse, hate speech, threats of rape and blatant sharing of intimate videos, but they No response found.

“It’s rare that the cybercrime wing will register cases filed by women workers, and even if it does, it usually takes years for something to happen,” says the father. “So I never expected her to be so rude as to take action against the surviving women who were talking.”

This was not an isolated use of the law against women. Many were recently threatened with criminal defamation when girls at the prestigious Lahore Grammar School were accused of harassment by teachers and fellow students, after which the allegations were silenced. At the Lahore University of Management Sciences, a Facebook page was blocked with evidence of sexual abuse of students with a letter threatening to report them to the FIA.

“We see this happening again and again,” says the father. “Cyber ​​laws that have been enacted in Pakistan in the name of protecting women are being misused and used to silence them.”

International Women's Day in Lahore

Activists called for change on International Women’s Day in Lahore last March. Photograph: Arif Ali / AFP / Getty Images

As Shafi’s lawyer, the father claims that he himself has been the target of a “vicious campaign” in which newspapers are created. Charges That it is an illegal operative operating an “illegal NGO”, Unclaimed claims Tweeted by Zafar. The father says, “They will not only try to silence and silence the victims, but also anyone who will try to help the victims fight for justice.

On December 15The FIA ​​presented evidence that Shafi and others in the case were “guilty” of defamation and called for legal action against them.

Zafar’s lawyer, Umberin Qureshi, declined to comment to the Guardian on the allegations, but said: “We have provided evidence to the FIA ​​that has led to a lawsuit against Ms Shafi and eight others.” Qureshi says Shafi failed to provide any witnesses to support his allegations. Shafi’s lawyer says he was not given a chance.

According to Qureshi, court documents so far have shown that “in this case, an innocent man was subjected to a vicious campaign of criminal incitement by a group of women closely associated with him.” The eight women facing charges deny any previous relationship or campaign and say they intend to fight in court and call for the repeal of the Cyber ​​Defamation Act.

Ghani says: “People keep saying that the death of #MeToo is happening in Pakistan, which is so horrible because it is not that women are being harassed and abused, but we are being silenced. Yes, we all realize that Pakistan’s #MeToo movement is involved in this issue.

“The whole system is against us. Ali Zafar is a powerful man, and it is difficult to go to court – but what could be more difficult than lying and living with this lie. “I want to go to jail instead.”

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