How Meesha Shafi Sparked the #MeToo Movement in Pakistan
For the last two years, Meesha Shafi’s case has been headlining the news. Shafi has fought character assassination, accusations, and fervently held her ground despite numerous attempts to silence her and her supporters.
What compelled us to create this post in collaboration with @auratcollective was the abundance of misinformation surrounding the ongoing cases and the lack of awareness surrounding the facts. Meesha Shafi came out publicly on social media in April 2018 to speak of her experience with Ali Zafar and being a target of sexual harassment. Alongside Shafi, multiple women took to social media speaking of their experiences of harassment by Zafar. The initial case filed by Shafi was dismissed on technical grounds and is not being adjudicated.
So, what has been happening since?
Ali Zafar has filed multiple suits and petitions utilising the law as arsenal in attempts to silence Shafi, and a number of women who have publicly spoken about their experience with Zafar and the harassment they endured. Zafar has weaponized his status, privilege, and failure of the law to protect survivors to his advantage. The Federal Investigation Agency has aided his cause by harassing witnesses to withdraw their support. Judiciary and High Courts continue to place an unrelenting burden of proof on survivors ingrained within cultural and religious interpretations.
Sexual harassment occurs at epidemic rates in Pakistan with the majority of women unable to take legal action or speak out due to stigmatisation and lack of legislation protecting women’s rights. Pakistan has fostered a culture of victim-blaming reinforced by our legal system, government, and law enforcement. The actions of these institutions deter women from reporting harassment, violence and abuse.
If a woman speaking out against her harasser is defamation in Pakistan, the country has made it clear they want us to remain silent. We will continue to be vocal until the culture that enables harassment is changed.
Patriarchy in Pakistan is unfortunately both authoritative and influential, making it difficult to speak out without feeling threatened or iced out. A tweet from Meesha Shafi, a Pakistani singer, sparked a wave of the #MeToo movement in Pakistan when she spoke out about Ali Zafar.
Shafi wrote, “… I will break the culture of silence that permeates through our society. It is not easy to speak out… but it is harder to stay silent. My conscience will not allow it anymore #metoo.”
Her post went on to say that Zafar, who is also a well-known Pakistani singer, had harassed her on more than one occasion. Multiple women came out in solidarity with Meesha, speaking of their own experiences with Ali Zafar. His reaction to all this was orchestrated and theatrical, topping it off with a lawsuit suing Meesha for defamation.
April 2018: Meesha Shafi speaks out about her experience with Ali Zafar in a Tweet, sparking a wave of other women claiming similar experiences with Zafar. Shafi files a case against Zafar that is dismissed on technical grounds, and she was told that it didn’t classify as ‘workplace harassment.’
June 2018: Ali Zafar files a defamation suit against Meesha Shafi, in accordance with the Defamation Ordinance 2002, for false allegations. Zafar’s defamation suit asked Shafi to issue a public apology on social media, or pay him PKR 1 billion in damages.
August 2018: Shafi’s appeal regarding the dismissal of her sexual harassment complaint is dismissed, as she and Zafar didn’t have an ’employee-employer relationship.’
January 2019: A sessions court in Lahore gives Shafi a cease and deist – Shafi is now under a gag order and cannot make negative remarks about Ali Zafar in the press or on social media.
April 2019: Zafar demands the case to conclude in 30 days. Shafi argues that 30 days isn’t enough time to produce witnesses. The Lahore High Court sets an order for the case to be resolved in 90 days.
September 2019: Leena Ghani, another woman who came out with a similar personal encounter with Zafar, and a witness in Shafi’s case, Tweets about her harassment from the FIA. Ghani files a petition against Arif Javed, a Deputy Officer in the FIA, for harassment and coercion. Meesha Shafi files a damages suit against Ali Zafar worth PKR 2 billion in sessions court for false claims, on the grounds of injury to reputation and mental anguish.
December 2019: Shafi appears in court for the FIA defamation suit filed against her, but fails to produce witnesses.
February 2020: An Additional Sessions Court states that until Zafar’s defamation petition against Shafi is decided, a verdict will not be announced.
September 2020: Meesha Shafi and 8 other women are booked under Section 20 (1) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and R/W 109-PPC, by the FIA, for a smear campaign against Ali Zafar. The FIA’s decision was made in accordance with a claim filed by Ali Zafar in 2018, alleging that many social media accounts were posting “defamatory material” against him.
October 2018: A sessions court denies Meesha Shafi’s plea to halt proceedings on the defamation suit. She states that witnesses were afraid to come forward due to possible legal ramifications.
October 2020: Imran Khan makes Ali Zafar ambassador for Pakistan’s first knowledge city.
The tweet above has now been deleted.
Here’s the summation of what we know about the Meesha Shafi case.
- Meesha Shafi is one of the many women that came forward with allegations against Ali Zafar.
- Hers is the only case that was filed for legal action.
- Zafar filed a defamation suit against Shafi for PKR 1 billion.
- Shafi filed a defamation suit against Zafar for PKR 2 billion.
- Her initial suit regarding sexual harassment is unable to be adjudicated because there is no legal jurisdiction/precedent in the country.
- Meesha Shafi files an appeal which is dismissed due to technicalities in legal statues existing for workplace harassment.