September 29th, 2020 

By Rehan Piracha


One of the lawyers of Meesha Shafi has accused Ali Zafar of harassing defense witnesses after the Federal Investigation Agency charged Shafi and eight others with defamation for allegedly launching a smear campaign against Zafar under the cybercrime law.

Besides, rights activists have called for amendment in the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2010) in order to discourage harassment in a wide variety of employment opportunities in the country.

Shafi, Iffat Omar, Leena Ghani, Fariha Ayub, Maham Javaid, Ali Gul, Haseemuz Zaman Khan, Humna Raza, and Syed Faizan Raza have been charged under section 20 (1) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and R/W 109-PPC. The FIA special court has directed registration of the First Investigation Report (FIR) against the suspects.

According to the FIR, criminal proceedings were launched after suspects failed to present their defense despite being summoned multiple times by the FIA cybercrime wing.

Speaking to, Meesha Shafi’s defense counsel, Barrister Saqib Jillani, says the FIR was mala fide and intended to harass witnesses in the case. He says Iffat Omar, Leena Ghani, Humna Raza, and Maham Javaid are defense witnesses in the defamation case filed by Zafar. He says the FIR should not have been registered as the actress was still pursuing her harassment case in the Supreme Court as well as a defamation case in the lower court. He says the actress’s legal team was holding consultations to develop a strategy to defend the actress in the FIA case.

In November 2018, Ali Zafar had filed a complaint with the FIA cybercrime wing, alleging that many social media accounts were posting threats and defamatory material against him. He gave out details of certain Twitter and Facebook accounts in support of his claim.

Shafi had appeared before the FIA with her team of lawyers in December 2019. The FIR says Ms Shafi failed to produce any witness in favor of her allegation (of sexual harassment) against Ali Zafar. According to the FIR, Leena Ghani was also summoned, but she did not turn up and sent her written statement which was not found satisfactory.

“She [Ms Ghani] was found involved in publicly posting defamatory content against the complainant on Twitter on April 19, 2018. Fariha Ayub and Maham Javaid were also summoned four times but they did not turn up to join the inquiry. Iffat Omar appeared but did not record her statement with the request to give her time, but despite repeated requests failed to record her statement,” the FIR says.

The FIR says Ali Gull, using his Twitter ID @Aligulpir, posted derogatory remarks against Zafar. “He was summoned thrice, but he deliberately did not turn up and submitted his statement to the FIA Karachi.”

However, it says Gull’s statement was found unsatisfactory and did not fulfill the merit of inquiry.

Similarly, Humna Raza submitted her statement which was also found “unsatisfactory”, the FIR says and adds Haseemuz Zaman was summoned four times but did not join the investigation.

Syed Faizan Raza recorded his statement, saying he made allegations against the complainant through tweets “based on public opinion”. However, his statement was found unsatisfactory. A defamation suit filed by Mr Zafar against Ms Shafi has also been pending with a session’s court.

‘Anti-harassment law inadequate on ground realities’

Maliha Zia, the Human rights lawyer, says the FIR against Shafi and others have shown the way to other harassers on how to intimidate and threaten complainants and their witnesses. She says women in Pakistan suffer sexual harassment in silence. “It is very commendable of women to come out publicly against their harassers,” she says. However, Zia says Meesha Shafi’s case will deter women from calling out their harassers.

According to Zia, Shafi and other cases have proved that the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2010) is inadequate on ground realities. “The law needs to be amended to include a wide variety of actual employment opportunities,” she explains.

According to lawyer Jannat Ali Kalyar, women in Pakistan are forced to call out harassment on social media as existing laws and legal procedures make it quite difficult for them to pursue their complaints. She says a woman can file a criminal complaint under the Pakistan Penal Code but in that situation, the complainant has to provide proof beyond reasonable doubt against the perpetrator. The other options are the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2010) and Section 24 of Cyber Stalking under the Pakistan Electronic Crime Act.

For instance, Kalyar says, Meesha Shafi harassment complaint is still lingering on a technicality that whether she and Ali Zafar fall in an employee and employer relationship under the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (2010). The case is now before the Supreme Court after the Lahore High Court upheld rulings of the Governor and the ombudsperson that Meesha Shafi did not fall in the definition of employee, she adds.

Kalyar also points out that Section 20 dealing with defamation under PECA is being weaponized against women filing harassment complaints as well as her witnesses. The perpetrators file defamation complaints with the FIA from cities other than the witnesses’ hometowns so that it becomes difficult for them to appear before the FIA.

Imaan Zainab, another lawyer, claims that the FIA cybercrime wing is being used to silence witnesses in a sexual harassment case involving Ali Zafar. “So much for witness protection in these cases,” Zainab says in her tweet. “Power of institutionalized misogyny: a man harasses several women and then uses State apparatus to silence victims and witnesses,” tweets Zainab.

When the MeToo movement began in western countries, the courts accepted the rationale that defamation cases could not be lodged during the course of a harassment case, Kalyar says. But, she adds, persons accused of harassment often threaten or intimidate women by filing defamation cases under the cybercrime law as well as civil courts in Pakistan.