LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to Aurat March – the country’s largest women’s rights event – but told organisers to ensure participants adhere to “decency and moral values”.
The country-wide event has been attended by tens of thousands over the last two years to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.
The high court was petitioned last month to place restrictions on the organisers and participants of the march, whom the complainant said had an agenda to “spread anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy and hatred” against Islam.
The court told organisers to consult local adminstration to finalise arrangements for the event, which campaigns for reclaiming space for women as well as the LGBT community.
Global watchdogs have expressed concern in recent years over what they see as a growing clampdown on rights campaigns in Pakistan.
Shireen Mazari condemns leaders urging 'forceful stop' to Aurat March
LHC Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh observed that the participants of the march must avoid hurting sentiments of “any sect and community through objectionable slogans, placards, banners and hate speeches”.
Police, told to ensure security for the march, submitted a report to the court stating the event faced a threat from radical groups including Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants.
The DIG operations of the Punjab Police told the court they would provide security but it was essential for organisers to prohibit participants from engaging in “controversial acts”. He maintained that the organisers of Aurat March have shown their inability to give an undertaking on behalf of the participants of the demonstration.
The DIG also informed the court that in a meeting with representatives of Tehreek Tahfaz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat and Sunni Tehreek made it clear that if the Aurat March is held without proper code of conduct, many religious organisations will also hold a rally against the demonstration in Lahore.
The Aurat March 2020 poster that led to rape threats
During the hearing, petitioner’s counsel advocate Azhar Siddique reiterated that they did not want to stop Aurat March but ensure that sentiments are not hurt through it.
Advocate Saqib Jillani, who was defending the march, counter argued that the petitioner clearly mentioned in the petition that he actually wanted it to be stopped. He apprised the court that the petitioner had termed Aurat March as an “anti-state activity”.
Upon which, Siddique responded that “women are the beauty of our society”.
“We are just talking about the slogans like ‘mera jism, meri marzi’ (my body, my choice). A perception is being created through such activities perhaps we are oppressing women,” he argued.
The LHC chief justice was informed that at least four to five thousand people including men, women and transgender will participate in the March 8 protest.
Jillani implored the court that the guidelines which were placed before local administration be considered as their undertaking for the march.
1-We will refrain from using any language or images on posters and placards that is discriminatory towards any religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender or sexual identity.
2-We will not condone any messages that will instigate or promote violence or the hate speech.
3-We encourage posters and placards that follow this year’s theme of “Khud Mukhtari”, self-determination and self-sufficiency, please read the charter of demands for a better understanding of the themes of Aurat March.
4-If you chose to bring posters or placards that are considered controversial, you are more likely to have your picture published on media platforms and receive backlash. Please take that under consideration when designing your posters.
5-We at Aurat March would like to be more environmentally conscious so please refrain from using any plastic in your posters and placards.
LHC CJ Justice Mamoon observed that there are no two opinions on women’s rights but it is the responsibility of the organisers to ensure that no immoral slogans are raised at the march.
(With input from Reuters)