MINGORA: As the world prepared to mark “Malala Day” on Saturday to support the teenager shot by the Taliban for promoting girls' education, security fears in her hometown meant her schoolmates could not honour her in public.
Taliban hitmen shot Malala Yousufzai on her school bus a month ago in Mingora in Pakistan's northwestern Swat Valley in a cold-blooded murder attempt for the “crime” of campaigning for girls' right to go to school and opposing the Taliban.
Miraculously, the 15-year-old survived and her courage has won the hearts of millions around the world, prompting the UN to declare Saturday a “global day of action” for her.
People around the globe are expected to hold vigils and demonstrations honouring Malala and calling for the 32 million girls worldwide who are denied education to be allowed to go to school.
But in Mingora, the threat of further Taliban reprisals casts a fearful shadow, and students at Malala's Khushhal Public School were forced to honour her in private.
“We held a special prayer for Malala today in our school assembly and also lit candles,” school principal Mariam Khalid told AFP.
“We did not organise any open event because our school and its students still face a security threat.”
Though their bid to kill Malala failed, the Taliban have said they will attack any woman who stands against them and fears are so great that Khalid said even speaking to the media could put students' lives in danger.
Malala rose to prominence with a blog for the BBC charting life in Swat under the Taliban, whose bloody two-year reign of terror supposedly came to an end with an army operation in 2009.
Despite the dangers, some children in Mingora were determined to speak out and pledged to follow Malala's brave example.
“Malala is a good friend of mine. She is brave and has honour and whoever attacked her did a terrible thing,” a 12-year-old student, who studies at a school close to Malala's, said.
“After the attack on her and her injuries, we have now more courage to study and now we will fulfill her mission to spread education everywhere,” the student, whose name has been removed for reasons of security, told AFP.
Another student, also 12, added: “Malala is the daughter of the nation and we are proud of her.
“She has stood by us and for our education up to now and now it is time that we should stand by her and complete her mission”.
Nearly 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Malala to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and on Friday UN special education envoy Gordon Brown handed a separate million-strong petition in support of Malala to President Asif Zardari.
Islamabad on Friday also announced a UN-backed scheme to give poor families cash incentives to send their children to school in a bid to get three million more youngsters into education.