Feminist organisations express solidarity with academic

WDF, WAF, AAM and other feminist and women rights organisations condemn threats hurled by JUI to Dr Arfana Mallah; demand release of Dr Sajid Soomro and others


Herald Report

Islamabad, June 12: Pakistan’s leading feminist organisations have condemned the harassment of a prominent academic and activist through a malicious campaign by religious zealots in Sindh.

In a joint statement over a dozen feminist and women’s rights organisations including Women Democratic Front WDF), Women Action Forum (WAF) and Aurat March (AM) have expressed solidarity with Dr Arfana Mallah,  a professor at the University of Sindh, and condemned the smear campaign launched by a local JUI-F leader.

“We, as feminists from all over Pakistan, jointly condemn the false accusations of blasphemy levelled at Dr Arfana Mallah, an eminent academic and feminist organizer, by the JUI,” the statement issued on Friday read.

All chapters of WDF, WAF and AM have reacted strongly to the JUI-F’s Hyderabad-based leader Raashid Soomro’s threat to file an FIR against Dr Mallah for condemning the arrest of Professor Sajid Soomro under blasphemy charges.

The statement has been endorsed by WAF, WDF, Sindhiyani Tehreek, Sindhi Aurat Tanzeem, Aurat Haq, Hum Aurtein, The Feminist Collective, Girls at Dhabas, Feminist Fridays, Aurat Azadi March.

Such an accusation is a deliberate and calculated attempt to instigate violence against Dr Mallah and her family to stop her from grassroots activism, the statement noted.

The organisers of Aurat March noted that charges of blasphemy are often used to silence progressive voices and those standing against corrupt practices.

“We demand the Sindh government and local police to ensure Dr Mallah’s immediate safety and protection.”

Sajid Soomro is a professor of Shah Abdul Latif University, who was arrested by police under blasphemy charges in Khairpur on Wednesday. The professor is also a writer known for his books on Sindhi-Mohajir unity.

He was arrested from his house in Ali Murad Mohalla, Khairpur city. According to eyewitnesses, police officials in at least four police vans cordoned off the area and tried to arrest Soomro, who closed the door of his house and called friends to inform them about the raid prior to his arrest.

“We strongly oppose the weaponization of blasphemy and sedition charges that are repeatedly used as an instrument to silence dissenting voices in this country,” the joint statement said.

The attack on Dr Mallah, according to the statement, is a dangerous development that targets not only her personhood but also the women’s movement in Pakistan.

“We see it as the continuation of the coordinated attack and collusion by patriarchal forces within and outside the state, corporate and state media, and religious-political forces against all critical intelligentsia, student movements and people’s resistance movements across the country. We also believe that this is a collective attack on the critical voices within academia.”

They vowed to collectively resist all those – within and outside the state – who attempt to attack or undermine our struggle for women’s emancipation in Pakistan.

“We reject the state backing of the religious right that seeks to uphold patriarchal structures in Pakistan, and subject’s women to state violence and exploitation on a daily basis. We also stand against the draconian colonial-era laws, laws made by Zia’s military regime and the ruling elite, and the laws made under the pretext of the War on Terror, which are continuously relied on to silence dissenting voices in Pakistan,” the statement noted.

It is high time that all laws that are continuously used as a coercive means to crush innocent voices be repealed. Pakistan needs democratic legislation that advances democratic values, social justice, equality and freedom of expression. It is high time that all laws that are continuously used as a coercive means to crush innocent voices be repealed.

The feminist organisations asked the government to take immediate legal action against the JUI people for endangering the life of Dr Mallah.

They also condemned the threats to academic freedom that exist in Pakistan and are exacerbated by a religious discourse that seeks to stifle critical thought. They demanded the immediate release of academics who have been imprisoned over false charges.

Dr Mallah is a respected academic and feminist activist and has spent her whole life fighting not only for women’s rights but also the cause of social justice for all, the statement noted.

The WDF called upon all the progressive forces of Pakistan to express solidarity with Dr Mallah, unequivocally.

The religious right has been continuously attacking feminists across Pakistan, and it tried to stop the international women’s day marches from taking place earlier this year. Nevertheless, we fought back, even though feminists in Islamabad were attacked with stones and bricks on the day of the march. We will continue to fight back through peaceful means and struggle for abolishing all interlocking forms of patriarchal and state oppression, national and class oppression, along with religious bigotry.

“We affirm our commitment to women’s emancipation and collectively exposing, resisting and eliminating the inequities that colour women’s existence and defeat all forms of patriarchal oppression and violence.”

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