March 11, 2023
By Ahmed Saeed & Xari Jalil
Once again, Aurat March organizers and participants had to seek government permission to march in Lahore, and like every year for the past four years, the organizers had to go to the Lahore High Court after the DC Lahore – coincidently a woman herself – had refused to allow the march.
However, according to the lawyers who fought the case in court the decision by the Lahore High Court was not welcome because it gave conditional permission to hold the march.
According to the decision for example, Aurat March was barred from putting up ‘controversial’ posters and slogans.
Lawyers question how the state can decide which slogan or placard is wrong and which is right, and it would be illegal to grant such authority to anyone.
According to lawyer Asad Jamal, the organizers of the Aurat March should challenge this decision because the decision has given the administration power to monitor the participants of the march, which is an unconstitutional practice.
“The court in its verdict isolates all the fundamental rights, including the people’s right of assembly – from the right of freedom of speech,” said Advocate Asad Jamal while speaking to Voicepk.net on Friday. “There can be no right to freedom of assembly if there is no right to freedom of speech – they are very closely connected.”
He said that everyone had objected to the terms and conditions of the NOC which were given by the DC Lahore. “In fact its a direct violation of the right to freedom of speech, the constitution, so the court should not have given it approval. We wanted to challenge it.”
Even if it were to be conceded that it is not a direct result of the kind of order was passed by high court, I see a very obvious connection between the conditions imposed by the city administration & santioned by the court and how men try to invade dignity and privacy of women. https://t.co/3HDu215Tfu
— Asad Jamal (@LegalPolitical) March 10, 2023
Sabahat Rizvi, the newly elected Secretary of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, and one of the lawyers who represented the case in court, also believes that the verdict must be challenged.
“The court should not have made the undertaking part of the order, because every year the issues are different and so are the resources. At this rate, the government will always follow the same pattern and put pressure on the participants,” said Rizvi. “If Aurat March participants wants to challenge it, they simply must. We can always file an appeal.”
“Before getting the NOC, the program organizers will provide (the administration) with a list of those attending.” – LHC order
Khawar Mumtaz, the petitioner in the Lahore High Court for organizing the Aurat March, said that it is the constitutional right of everyone to protest and there should be no need to take NOC for it.
“I dont think there is any point in challenging,” she says. “I would suggest not to even bother getting an NOC next time. We have also been agitating and coming onto the streets since the last 40 years,” she said speaking about the old guard of feminist activists in Pakistan. “Especially during the martial law. We never even cared about NOCs. It is our right. If they tell us not to protest on the Mall Road for a reason, then we can move to another location. But they have no business to either give us an NOC or to put conditions on us.
“The organizers of the rally is bound to provide complete footage of the rally.” – LHC order
According to the organizers of the march in Lahore, the security arrangements were satisfactory, but because of the closure of the city’s roads, a large number of people could not join the march.
Shmyla Khan, one of the most active participants of the march spoke to Voicepk.net on the day of the march and had observed that even though there was a rally by the PTI the same day, and the city had been closed down on Women’s Day, people were still joining in their march.
Human rights activists and lawyers have questioned why the government blocks the Women’s March every year, while other marches are given a free pass – whether to do so to strengthen the perception. Is it not that the state is depriving women of the constitutional right to equal status?