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Harassment in Pakistan — amusement for the powerful?

Unfortunately, we, in the eastern hemisphere, are ill-equipped and uncomfortable when conversing about any subject that involves sexuality.

In my capacity as an advisor (legal) at the Federal Ombudsperson for the Protection Against Harassment at the Workplace, I have had the unique experience of sitting on cases wherein various women and men came to the forum for the redressal of their complaints against individuals who have purportedly harassed them at work.
I have seen cases brought mostly by women against their superiors who have either created very hostile work environments or have sought to demand sexual favours from the women in their office outrightly.
One particular case that comes to mind is when a postmaster of some post office in a rural area had used his peon to deliver messages to a lady clerk working in the post office. As per the lady, the peon would insist that her life would be a lot simpler if she agreed to their boss’ demands otherwise she would suffer consequences. The lady internally made a complaint, but the inquiry officer appeared to be in collusion with her boss and threatened her to withdraw the complaint. The lady stayed brave and brought the complaint to us, and we listened to her case and took appropriate action against the man.
What complicates the waters is when the complaint is brought against more powerful offenders. Such people have better lawyers who can then create bigger problems to spike the administration of justice
It is an unfortunate reality to face that these instances occur, and we mostly have to rely on the bravery of such women to bring these matters to us. Yet these are still manageable in the sense that once they come to our attention, we can take action. What complicates the waters is when the complaint is brought against more powerful offenders. Such people have better lawyers who can then create bigger problems to spike the administration of justice. It is these spikes that we need to pay attention to and vanquish from our systems because harassment cannot be the amusement for the powerful at the expense of the weak.
It would probably come as no surprise to most people that most lawyers advise the use of a mechanism in law called stay orders. Stays have been an ubiquitous part of our legal system since time immemorial, predominantly to be used as a defence against the overarching and potentially abusive power of the executive. In recent times, it has been creatively used as a sword by enterprising lawyers who wish to ascertain an advantage for their clients by indefinitely delaying a case.
These stays are predominantly the spikes used in our courts to delay, frustrate and stall the process. A case was brought by a lady against her employer bank. This case had gone on for a year, in a court required to conclude a case in 60 days. They had acquired a stay order from the Lahore High Court. They did so by challenging the jurisdiction of my court to hear the complaint.
This should not be a concern as according to the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, by which this court was established, our jurisdiction extends to the entirety of Pakistan. However, the lawyers used a judgment passed by the Honourable Lahore High Court, which has sought to limit our territorial jurisdiction, by deciding that we have no jurisdiction over provincial cases.
With this stay, the bank’s lawyers attained their desire to stall the proceedings and wear out the woman who had complained. This is the sole cause of immense frustration and bitterness towards a system already infamous over its inability to provide justice to the people it is meant to serve. The judgment of the Lahore High Court needs to be challenged in the Supreme Court, yet no lawyer is brave enough to do so.
Harassment is yearning for a legal definition, appropriate to its significance. Globally, and as part of our understanding, protection against harassment is an inalienable human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a fundamental guiding document on human rights, safeguards the life, liberty and security of all human beings
Harassment is yearning for a legal definition, appropriate to its significance. Globally, and as part of our understanding, protection against harassment is an inalienable human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a fundamental guiding document on human rights, safeguards the life, liberty and security of all human beings. Similarly, Article 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan safeguards the dignity of man. Further, Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code specifically states that insulting the modesty of women or causing sexual harassment is a crime, punishable with imprisonment from three years or fine up to Rs. 500,000, or both.
Yet, unfortunately, as much as our people vow and affirm that we defend our virtues greater and with more passion than any other, and that we respect our women more than the repugnant sexual deviants of the West when brought to face with the reality of this subject matter, they are deeply ‘uncomfortable’. Almost everyone proclaims that they come from an honourable, dignified family, as they attempt to subvert an accusation brought against them, assuming that this immediately exonerates them from such ‘uncomfortable’ accusations.
Similarly, the Honourable High Court of Lahore, in the judgment mentioned earlier, decided that harassment is a simple trivial matter of ‘social welfare’, instead of being rooted in fundamental human rights. Social welfare, a cursory Google Search will inform you, is the domain of setting up schools and hospitals, among other things, for the welfare of the citizens of Pakistan. Does that have any correlation with harassment? No. So why is harassment suddenly a matter of social welfare instead of your fundamental rights? Because, it is a complicated, uncomfortable subject: a subject everyone hopes would go away.
Unfortunately, we, in the eastern hemisphere, are ill-equipped and uncomfortable when conversing about any subject that involves sexuality. Or the abuse of it, or most importantly the advantage that the silence on such a matter can give to those wishing to enjoy their liberty to abuse those weaker than themselves. This is the problem we face.
Harassment is complicated. Yetit is better to admit that we don’t know enough about it and should try to cure our ignorance than to actively derail it in the hopes that it’ll stop. It won’t. So, let’s talk about it.

#Pakistan - #JusticeForKhadija - I am not scared, he should be scared': For Khadija Siddiqui, there is hope yet

ON Tuesday evening, an hour before sunset, 23-year-old Khadija Siddiqui is torn between giving post-Iftar interviews to the broadcast media and studying for her final year LLB exam, which falls this Friday.
Ms Siddiqui’s life has not been the same since May 3, 2016, when she was mercilessly stabbed — 23 blows — on Lahore’s busy Davis Road as she picked up her younger sister, then six years old, from school. Two years later, she is fighting to bring her attacker, Shah Hussain, to justice as the Lahore High Court on Monday acquitted him after a trial court conviction of attempted murder.
Ms Siddiqui recalls that fateful morning vividly. “It was a very hot day. I remember I filled up my black Nike water bottle with lots of ice and then got into the car to pick up Sophie.”
Their car was parked in front of Ambassador Hotel, with Sophie inside and Ms Siddiqui settling into the backseat, when the attacker struck.
“My one leg was in the car and I was suddenly pushed on the seat and stabbed in the back repeatedly. My little sister intervened — she screamed and got out of the car from the other side, towards the oncoming traffic, and tried to help me. She was also stabbed,” Ms Siddiqui says, her voice clear and steady.
“I don’t have the words to tell you what state I was in. I was covered in blood, and my eyes closed as I was struck with a knife, one blow after another.”
Victim of brutal attack says family support, response from public gives her courage to fight
The family driver leapt out of the driving seat and first pulled Sophie out of harm’s way and then pushed the attacker, removing his helmet in the process so his face was visible.
“Even in my state, at the time I knew it could be no one but him [Hussain].” Ms Siddiqui describes Hussain, whom she was once friends with, as “manipulative and oppressive”.
“When I stopped talking to him at the end of 2015, I had had enough. He was too overpowering. During my elder sister’s wedding he would call me and insist on meeting and would threaten me if I said I was busy. He would get so angry.”

Khadija Siddiqui was the target of a gruesome knife attack in 2016 — Photo by author
Khadija Siddiqui was the target of a gruesome knife attack in 2016 — Photo by author

Ms Siddiqui believes her social media and email accounts were hacked by Hussain, who used the platforms to message her friends and pressure her into contacting him.
Did she see the violence coming? “No,” says Ms Siddiqui. “He would give me criminal stares in class and I would get scared, but we hadn’t talked in 10 months.”
The attack changed everything. With grievous injuries, Ms Siddiqui was hospitalised and treated for nearly three weeks. Trauma, the anguish of missed exams and a wasted academic year coupled with the pain of what happened tormented her.
A case was registered, but there was pressure on her not to pursue it. Attempts were made to shame her family into silence. A CD with pictures of Ms Siddiqui and other male friends was sent to the home with a note saying “this is just the beginning”.
Her mother Raazia Ahmed explains her ordeal. “That night I was shattered. The only thing that I could think of was that we should drop this. I was fearful of what would come. He stabbed her and then indulged in mudslinging and character assassination to discredit my daughter. As a mother, it was too much to bear.”
But in a country where victims are often blamed by relatives for somehow being responsible for bringing cruelty upon themselves, Mr Siddiqui’s mother has been clear on her stance from the first day. “How could I blame my own daughter for this? She was stabbed 23 times. She was in so much pain. I couldn’t even think of asking her why or how.”

Khadija and her mother Raazia — Photo by author
Khadija and her mother Raazia — Photo by author

Ms Ahmed’s questions are all directed at the accused. “How dare he do this to my daughter? He has no right to even touch or say anything to my daughter.”
It is easy to see where Ms Siddiqui’s strength comes from. Her immediate and extended family, who live in the same Gulberg neighbourhood as the Siddiquis, have lent immense support. Aside from moral support, the Siddiquis have paid nearly Rs2 million to lawyers fighting the case and are ready to pay more.
“My mother is my role model. She does not let me back off or be scared. My parents said everybody makes mistakes and it [being involved with someone] is not the end of the world. No one has the right to hurt you.”
It is Ms Siddiqui’s support system, and the confidence she has gained from the media and public’s response to her story, which give her hope. Tehmina Durrani has personally paid one lawyer’s fees, she says, and several activists and journalists are giving her the strength to fight this to the end.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar late on Tuesday took notice of the acquittal of Ms Siddiqui’s attacker and summoned the records of the case at the Supreme Court’s registry in Lahore for Sunday.
Ms Siddiqui has high hopes from the apex court.
“Standing by the truth gives you confidence,” she says. “He [Hussain] is not just a threat to me, he is a threat to society at large. I am not scared. He should be scared that society has stood up against him and that they will not let a criminal roam free.”

#GulBukhari #Pakistani activist abduction sparks fear of crackdown on dissent


Pakistani journalist Gul Bukhari, who has openly criticised the military, was briefly abducted by masked men in Lahore. 
The brief abduction of a prominent Pakistani social activist and newspaper columnist known for her strident criticism of the country's powerful military has raised fears of a renewed crackdown on dissent in the South Asian country.
Gul Bukhari, 52, was abducted by several unidentified men while she was on her way to a television news studio in the eastern city of Lahore on Tuesday night, a family member told Al Jazeera.
Several hours later, she was released, they confirmed, although they did not provide any details regarding the attack.
The abduction has heightened fears among activists and journalists, coming as it does in the wake of widespread censorship of news considered critical of the military and certain political parties, and prompted concern that a new wave of intimidation is imminent.
Bukhari, who is a vocal critic of the military and its alleged role in censoring Pakistan's media and involving itself in political processes, was abducted a day after the military warned that it was monitoring social media activity for "anti-state, anti-Pakistan and anti-army" material.
"We do have the capability to monitor social media, to see who is doing what," said Major-General Asif Ghafoor, the military's spokesperson, on Monday.
In a separate incident on Tuesday, journalist Asad Kharal was also assaulted in Lahore by "some persons wearing masks," he said.
Pakistan ranks 139 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, and attacks against journalists and other media professionals - particularly those deemed critical of the state - are common.
Since last year, the state has carried out a sustained campaign targeting those critical of the military - which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half of its 70-year history - on social media, an Al Jazeera investigation found.

'There is no stopping them'

The attack on Bukhari comes as the distribution of Dawn, Pakistan's oldest and most respected daily newspaper, was disrupted in several areas across the country, a source told Al Jazeera, allegedly over its publication of an interview with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that implied military complicity in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. 
In April, the Geo News television station, one of the country's most popular news networks, came back on air after weeks of being blocked by cable operators, also allegedlyat the behest of the military.
Geo was allowed to resume transmissions only after it agreed to a deal with the military to change its editorial stance on certain political issues, two officials at the channel told the Reuters news agency.
Earlier this year, several newspaper columnists were told that their regular op-ed columns, most on the subject of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) rights group, would not be published. The PTM has held countrywide rallies against alleged rights abuses by the military in the country's northwest since January.
"It appears that those behind this abduction want to send a message to the rest of Pakistan and the world that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to dissenters, and that there is no stopping them," said Taha Siddiqui, a journalist who was forced to flee the country after a similar abduction attempt in January
"The Pakistan army cannot tolerate dissent, and they have managed to control the mainstream Pakistani media. Now they are desperately trying to do the same with social media."
Siddiqui now runs SAFE Newsrooms a whistleblowing website that encourages South Asian journalists to report censorship within their newsrooms anonymously. The site was blocked by the Pakistani government within weeks of being launched.
Pakistan's military denies that it has issued any directives to media organisations to control their coverage, inviting news organisations to report on the alleged censorship if it has taken place.
"Whenever I have spoken to [media owners and journalists], I have said the same thing: right now Pakistan needs to unite, to present its successes and build on them," said General Ghafoor on Monday. "That is what I told them we need to do, and that is what they have done."

#GulBukhari - Bilawal Bhutto on Twitter: "The abduction of Gul Bukhari Unacceptable

The abduction of Gul Bukhari & assault of Assad Kharral are unacceptable attacks on freedom of expression. These attacks must be investigated and those responsible held accountable. Censored Democracy na manzoor.

Pakistani journalist critic of military freed after abduction

Mubasher Bukhari, Drazen Jorgic
A Pakistani journalist and rights activist who openly criticized the military and its alleged meddling in politics was freed early on Wednesday, several hours after being abducted.
The journalist, Gul Bukhari, who is a dual Pakistani-British national, has been a vocal critic of Pakistan’s powerful military on social media and in her articles in the run-up to a July 25 general election.
She has also defended ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who clashed with the military before the Supreme Court forced him from office last year over an undeclared source of income.
Bukhari was on her way to record a television program late on Tuesday for the Waqt news program in the city of Lahore when her vehicle was intercepted and she was taken away by unidentified men, her husband and media colleagues said.
After her release, she said in a statement posted on Twitter by a family member that she was well, and she asked for privacy.
“I would like to express my deep gratitude and love to my friends, family, colleagues & supporters in civil society, journalism and politics across the board, for coming together in solidarity in concern for my wellbeing last night,” she said.
Rights groups have denounced the kidnappings of several social media activists over the past year as attempts to intimidate and silence critics of Pakistan’s security establishment.
Last year, five bloggers went missing for several weeks before four of them were released. All four fled abroad and at least two afterwards told media that they were tortured by a state intelligence agency during their disappearance.
The military has staunchly denied playing a role in any enforced disappearances, as has the civilian government.
The military did not respond to a request for comment on Bukhari’s case.
The British High Commission in Islamabad said in a message on Twitter it was offering Bukhari consular assistance. “We are very concerned at reports of Gul Bukhari’s abduction last night,” it said. Earlier, Muhammad Gulsher, a producer for the Waqt news program where Bukhari appears as a guest, told Reuters that she had been abducted when a group of pick-up trucks stopped her vehicle and men in plain clothes dragged her away while other men in “army uniforms” stood guard.
“They put a black mask on her face and took her,” he said, adding that he was basing his information on an account from Bukhari’s driver.
The abduction drew widespread outrage on social media with many activists swiftly pointing the finger at the military, calling it part of efforts to stifle dissent.
“If true, this would be a most audacious attempt to silence a known critic. Is this Pakistan or Kim’s North Korea or Sisi’s Egypt?” tweeted Syed Talat Hussain, a prominent journalist.
Media organizations have complained of growing censorship by the military establishment in the run-up to the July election.