Thursday Feb 27 2020
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Aurat March 2020: LHC Chief Justice says cannot ban freedom of expression

Civil society activists carry placards and shout slogans during a rally for women rights on International Women's Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2018. AFP/Aamir Qureshi/Files

LAHORE: LHC Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh on Thursday underscored that no ban could be imposed on the freedom of expression during a hearing pertaining to a petition against the Aurat March 2020.

Filed by Advocate Azhar Siddique, a local lawyer, the petition had sought a permanent ban on the upcoming Aurat March — coinciding with the International Women's Day, March 8 — for being "anti-state" and "un-Islamic".

The LHC issued notices after permitting renowned lawyer Hina Jilani to become a party in the case. Advocate Jilani — who is also part of The Elders, a Nelson Mandela-founded group of global leaders — opposed the petition, saying the Aurat March was being held to underline the importance of women in society.

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"How is the petitioner at all related to the Aurat March," Jilani asked, referring to Siddique. The event was "scheduled for Sunday and, therefore, would not impact businesses" either, she added.

Civil society activists carry placards as they march during a rally to mark International Women's Day in Karachi, Pakistan, March 8, 2018. AFP/Asif Hassan/Files

"We are not marching just like that," she said, emphasising on the preparation, strategisation, permissions, and planning prior to the march.

Siddique explained that he did not intend to stop the Aurat March but said there were "objectionable" posters and placards in 2019. "Look at last year's posters, see what happened," he told the court.

Justice Sheikh, however, stressed that the court could not just impose a ban on freedom of expression in such a manner. On the other hand, the court also asked the Punjab Police and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to submit their responses on the petition during the next hearing.

After the hearing, Aurat March Lahore thanked people "for turning up in our support".

In a video they shared, they noted that there were "four male lawyers for every female lawyer in Lahore, according to the Punjab Bar Council".

"Yet today, half the courtroom was packed with women."

Speaking to reporters as well as the women who were at the court to show solidarity, Jilani underscored that there was "no locus standi that a petitioner approached the court on this matter and interfered in our freedom of peaceful assembly".

The human rights advocate said it was "between us and the administration" to decide the rally's location and the manner in which it would start. The administration, on the other hand, would take measures to protect the rally and facilitate its route, she added.

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"The state's responsibility is to facilitate the freedom to peaceful assembly and not stopping it or creating hurdles," the lawyer added. "There was no need to file such a petition. Courts use their authority to impose fundamental rights, not criticise them."

Jilani further mentioned that the Aurat March organisers did not believe that the rally be made controversial. "We are citizens of this country and different generations participate in this rally and express their dreams and aspirations using their freedom of expression, whether it be through placards or through slogans.

"I'm 67 years old but many other women who will participate in this rally with me are millennials. […] As for decency, we know much better than such people what decency is. We have learnt decency from our parents, we are not here to learn about our values from such people, such petitioners. We are aware of our values. Our young generation is aware of their social values.

"These are filthy mindsets, these are dirty mindsets that see obscenity in everything. These are children and they are allowed to talk. These are the women, who, at this moment, are assets of this country. We say nations are built through their youths. What do you want?

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"Do you want these young people not to talk? What the women of our country feel, do you want them not to raise their voices? That such people, with their dirty mindsets, call it obscenity? We will not accept it! This is neither obscenity nor vulgarity and never was!"

Plea claims Aurat March spreads 'anarchy, vulgarity'

On Tuesday, the LHC had issued notices to the federal and provincial governments on an application seeking a permanent ban on the upcoming Aurat March, as per a report by The News.

Advocate Siddique's petition had stated: “Prima facie the Aurat March is misdirection and a failed attempt to raise grave issues commonly faced by women.”

Civil society activists carry placards and shout slogans during a rally for women rights on International Women's Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2018. AFP/Aamir Qureshi/Files

The petitioner claimed that placards carrying messages that allegedly manifest anarchy and vulgarity would be displayed by hundreds of women during the march. "There are various anti-state parties present who are funding this Aurat March with the sole purpose of spreading anarchy amongst the masses," he accused.

Siddique added in his claims that the march was "against the very norms of Islam" and that its hidden agenda is to spread "anarchy, vulgarity and hatred". He had requested the court to "silence the advertisement of Aurat March on social media and to regulate protests such as the Aurat March".

Aurat March 2020 will be held across Pakistan on March 8 to mark International Women’s Day.


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