3rd November 2021
By Asra Haque
Instead of discussing the allegations of sexual harassment by singer Meesha Shafi against her former co-worker Ali Zafar, actress Saba Hameed, Shafi’s mother was subjected to some tough grilling about her family members during her cross examination in the Lahore High Court on Wednesday.
The hearing was scheduled to commence at 11 AM but was delayed by nearly an hour due to the late arrival of Zafar’s counsel, Advocate Muhammad Umer Tariq Gill.
Hameed, who is a witness for the her daughter Meesha Shafi, who is the defendant in the defamation suit filed by Zafar, told the Lahore Additional and Sessions Court Judge Justice Khan Mehmood that she was not present at the three alleged instances of sexual harassment. However, the actress said that she believed the allegations not just because Shafi was her daughter but also because she had raised both her children according to high moral standards. Therefore, she stated, they do not tell lies.
When asked by the plaintiff’s counsel whether she believed her son, singer Faris Shafi, respected women, the actress stated that both her children respected all human beings and that she was proud of their contributions to the entertainment and music industries. At this stage, Advocate Gill played two rap videos of Faris Shafi, and referred to the singer’s use of derogatory language and references to genitalia in his songs.
Hameed countered that the songs were nearly a decade old and that they had been voluntarily removed by her son from social media, including YouTube, soon after they were uploaded. Defense counsel Advocate Saqib Jilani placed serious objections to the use of the videos on the grounds that the plaintiff’s question had no relevance under section 143 and other relevant clauses of the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order 1984, and that their only purpose was to annoy and insult the witness which is prohibited by law. He further contended that Faris Shafi is neither a party to the case nor a witness to the court proceedings.
Advocate Gill opposed the objection, contending that the videos were played in the court to show the ‘character’ of the witness’s son. Judge Mehmood inquired from the witness whether the videos shown were indeed of Faris Shafi, to which Saba replied in the affirmative. As there is no denial from the witness regarding the genuineness of the videos therefore the same is placed on record by over ruling objection of the defense counsel.
However, Hameed explained that Faris Shafi had used profane language in the videos on the demands of the genre of music. She asserted that one’s work does not reflect their character and referred to the fact that she is often cast in negative roles in some dramas. She stated that her playing these characters did not mean that she did magic or lied in real life. She further added that in a similar vein, rap is a genre that includes profane lyrics and that those lyrics did not reflect her son’s character.
In answer to the plaintiff’s counsel, the actress stated that she did not believe that women generally lie in matters pertaining to alleged incidents of sexual harassment. When asked whether she knew playwright Khalil-ur-Rehman Qamar and whether she acknowledged that Qamar had referred to Hameed as a dishonest person, the actress replied that she knew him very well and that although he had indeed said that of her, he later apologized on camera and due to no pressure from her end.
She also acknowledged that Humna Raza, a witness in the case, had publically apologized in front of the court and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for levelling allegations of sexual harassment against Zafar.
Hameed told the court that it was correct that, as per Shafi’s written statement in her cross in chief before the court, the singer had discussed the alleged incidents of sexual harassment with her husband Mehmood Rehman, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Night Dad, Syed Farhan Ali, Salman Butt, Ms. Salina and her husband Rizwan and her legal team prior to tweeting about them on April 19, 2018. Hameed further stated that it was also correct that her daughter did not mention in her cross in chief that she had also discussed the incidents with her mother prior to tweeting, however the defense witness volunteered that Shafi verbally informed her of the incidents before the April 19, 2018 tweet.
At this stage, the plaintiff’s counsel veered from the facts of the case and questioned Hameed about her father, late progressive activist Hameed Akhtar’s alleged role in the attempted coup d’état against the first elected Prime Minister of Pakistan Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, also referred to as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. The actress acknowledged that her father had indeed been arrested, adding that leftist poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz was also among those jailed in connection to the plot. She also asserted that her father, a human rights activist, was also arrested in the 1980s for standing up against the then military-dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.
Advocate Jilani raised an objection to the question, submitting that it had no relevance to the case and therefore cannot be asked. However, Judge Mehmood overruled the objection, stating that the witness had already provided that her father was arrested in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Hameed told the court that as far as she could recall, the charge against the late Hameed Akhtar had been that he might conspire against the state sometime in the future, and that he was placed under ‘protective detention’ to prevent that from happening.
Hameed also raised serious objections to Advocate Gill’s crude remark that Akhtar was going to gun down Liaquat Ali Khan (“Liaquat Ali Khan ko thoknay lagay”), and demanded he apologize for insulting her father who could not even be here to defend himself. The plaintiff’s counsel rescinded the comment, saying that he did not mean it.
The judge halted the cross examination and set Friday, November 5, for the next hearing. Advocate Gill later approached Hameed and apologized for the remark, which she accepted.