Writers, academics, artists, journalists, lawyers, students, and political and social workers have urged Prime Minister Imran Khan to take notice of a smear campaign and court orders asking police to file cases against women rights activists and organisers of the Aurat Azadi March.
In an open letter to PM Imran Khan, they have drawn his attention to a vicious disinformation campaign launched in online spaces, targeting especially those women affiliated with the broad umbrella of ‘Aurat March’.
“We, the concerned citizens of Pakistan, writers, academics, artists, development practitioners, social and political workers, journalists, students and lawyers write to draw your attention to a matter of great alarm and to request urgent action from your government,” the letter read.
The smear campaign used deliberately doctored footage and misrepresented images to insinuate that the organisers and participants of the march raised slogans and displayed banners purportedly with ‘blasphemous’ content.
People from all walks of life participated in the peaceful rallies and events held on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8 in different cities of Pakistan.
Some of these events were organized under the umbrella of ‘Aurat March’. The various activities that took place both called attention to deep-seated gender discrimination in all walks of life and celebrated the building of solidarities and popular coalitions of women, girls, men and transpeople across Pakistan despite enormous difficulties and dangers.
“Distressingly, the very dangers that these peaceful gatherings sought to highlight escalated dramatically in the days following 8th March. A vicious disinformation campaign was launched targeting especially those women affiliated with the broad umbrella of ‘Aurat March’. The campaign used deliberately doctored footage and misrepresented images to insinuate that organisers and participants of the Aurat March in many different Pakistani cities raised slogans and displayed banners with blasphemous content.
“Prime Minister, you are well aware that even allegations of this nature represent a mortal threat. While the initial disinformation campaign was vociferously exposed – members of the Press comprehensively debunked all the allegations and members of your cabinet including Federal Minister for Science and Technology, Fawad Chaudhry, Religious Affairs Minister Noorul Haq Qadri and PM’s Special Representative on Interfaith harmony Allama Tahir Ashrafi were among those who issued statements in this regard – the threats to life and liberty of Aurat March organisers and participants have far from dissipated.
The clearly baseless allegations of anti-Islamic banners and slogans are still being circulated to sustain legal petitions calling for police cases against Aurat March organisers. The lingering threat posed by the continuing circulation of these false accusations cannot be understated. If a formal police case were to be registered despite all that has been established, the prospect of unruly elements taking the law into their own hands, as has happened in Pakistan repeatedly, will be greatly enhanced.
The signatories have sought the premier’s intervention in this matter and called for a firm action against those who continue to endanger the lives of women in this way.
They reminded the PM and that he and his cabinet members have on many occasions expressed a commitment to the cause of gender equality, as well as a zero tolerance policy for violence and harassment. They hoped that the PM will reaffirm his commitment by taking a clear stance in favour of peaceful Aurat March organisers and participants who have committed no crime other than to speak up for the rights of women, girls and transpeople across Pakistan, the letter read.
They have called upon the Prime Minister to take urgent action that guarantees the safety of Aurat March organisers and participants, and reduces the space for unscrupulous elements that could subject other principled campaigners for peace, equality and dignity to similar hateful and dangerous campaigns in the future.