Women rights activists urge govt to rethink Ali Zafar’s award

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LAHORE: Women’s rights activists have condemned the government’s recent decision to confer the Pride of Performance Award upon singer Ali Zafar in light of sexual harassment allegations against him. Meanwhile, the latter’s legal counsel has termed the move “a smear campaign” and stated that there are no cases pending against the singer.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Dr Arif Alvi, the activists called upon the state to reconsider this year’s selection and defer the decision to a time when “all legal matters pertaining to allegations against the nominee have ceased”.

Ali Zafar

Singer Meesha Shafi had accused Zafar of sexual harassment in April 2018. Zafar had denied the accusations. The two artists then became embroiled in legal proceedings.

“As we work towards a more equitable Pakistani society, providing justice for women facing sexual harassment and violence at the workplace must be a top priority.

“We believe that the current government, working on a mandate to incorporate equity, justice, and insaaf within all political institutions and political machinery, has a special duty towards the protection of Pakistani women and other marginalised communities.”

The statement added that while each person was innocent until proven guilty, Zafar stood accused of multiple charges of harassment in cases that were currently ongoing. “Given the distinct accolade the award entails, we do not wish to see its legacy tarnished.”

It went on to say that the timing of such a conferment was “deeply troubling and highly insensitive”. “It is troubling because of the impression it gives — that the Pakistani state inadvertently stands behind men accused of sexual misconduct, regardless of pending verdicts.

“It is insensitive as it moves to invalidate the testimonies of multiple women coming forward and promotes a culture where sexual misconduct is not taken seriously,” it said.

Meanwhile, Zafar’s legal counsel issued a statement, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, claiming that there was no case in court against the singer. “It is most unfortunate that organisations fighting for women’s rights are usurping other’s rights and indulging in defamation and a smear campaign.”

It added that an organisation that advocated the international rule of justice was misrepresenting facts in its letter.