20th March 2021
Actress Saba Hameed’s request to be cross examined were turned down by Accountability Court Justice Azhar Iqbal Ranjha during a hearing into the Ali Zafar defamation lawsuit today, and adjourned the hearing till April 3 after key witnesses could not appear before the court due to threats to their lives.
In the hearing today, Shafi’s mother Saba Hameed requested Justice Ranjha to be allowed to sit for a cross examination, however the Honorable Judge declined this appeal, stating that the cross examination will only be conducted when her daughter is present with her.
Zafar’s counsel Advocate Umer Gill, who arrived nearly an hour late to the hearing, reiterated that Shafi, Ghani and others named in the suit, ran a defamation campaign against his client by levying ‘false harassment allegations’ on social media and tagging women’s rights groups such as Aurat March and the Womens [Action] Forum. Advocate Gill further added that the witnesses had refused to appear before the court.
However, Shafi’s counsel Advocate Saqib Jillani, requested the court to adjourn the hearing till a later date as witnesses Ghani and Farhan, although willing to record their statements, were unable to appear before the court due to threats.
Leena Ghani is facing threats to her life following allegations against Aurat March and Aurat Azadi March organizers and participants for being anti-Islam and propagating a Western agenda. Ghani is among those organizers who have been falsely accused of blasphemy over a banner displayed at Aurat March Lahore this year. In Pakistan, blasphemy allegations are tantamount to death, as the accused may face vigilante and mob violence.
Moreover, Advocate Jillani intimated that Farhan was being withheld from travelling to Lahore from Islamabad by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), with whom Ali Zafar had collaborated on a video with. He implored the court to allow the witnesses to record their statements via video-link or Zoom. Judge Azhar Iqbal Ranjha adjourned the hearing till April 3, however he directed Shafi’s counsel to take back their application for video-links with the witnesses and submit them in the next hearing.
Following the hearing, Saba Hameed informed the media that she has been repeatedly requesting to sit for a cross examination and is fully complying with the court’s directives. Moreover, she stated her daughter and witnesses have implored the court to be allowed to submit their statements via video-link as they currently face threats.
So far, only actress Iffat Omar, who has also been named in the defamation suit, has been cross examined. While recording her statement on January 19, 2021, Omar was heckled and harassed by a mob of Zafar’s supporters.
In April 2018, Shafi tweeted that she had been sexually harassed by Zafar, while the latter categorically denied the accusation.
“This happened to me despite the fact that I am an empowered, accomplished woman who is known for speaking her mind,” Shafi wrote in a tweet that is widely regarded as jumpstarting the #MeToo movement in Pakistan, and formally pressed charges against Zafar in July 2018. In January 2021, makeup artist, feminist activist and Aurat March Lahore organizer Leena Ghani also filed a Rs. 500 million suit against Zafar over alleged sexual harassment and defamation.
In December of last year, Zafar filed a case under section 20 (offences against the dignity of a natural person) of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and section 109 (punishment of abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code against former colleague, singer and actor Meesha Shafi, and seven others including Leena Ghani, Iffat Omer, Fariha Ayub, Faizan Raza, Haseem-uz-Zaman, Ali Gul Pir, and Maham Javed, for allegedly running a vilification campaign against him on social media.