'Freedom of expression can't be banned': LHC seeks police response on petition against Aurat March

27 Feb 2020


"Freedom of speech cannot be banned," says LHC Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh. — AFP/File
"Freedom of speech cannot be banned," says LHC Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh. — AFP/File

The Lahore High Court on Thursday demanded replies from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and police on a petition against the holding of Aurat March 2020, which is scheduled to take place on March 8.

The petition was filed by Judicial Activism Council Chairman Azhar Siddique who claimed "there are various anti-state parties funding the march with the sole purpose of spreading anarchy in public".

The petition also termed the march "against the norms of Islam", adding that it had a "hidden agenda" to spread "vulgarity and hatred".

"During last year's Aurat March, women were holding placards that had objectionable messages," said Siddique.

Today, LHC Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh heard arguments from both sides with Advocate Hina Jilani and founder of Digital Rights Foundation, Nighat Dad, defending the holding of the march.

"We are holding the Aurat March to highlight the importance of women in our society. The march will be held on a Sunday and will not hinder any economic activity," Jilani told the court.

She pointed out that the march was also held last year and had remained peaceful.

"We understand this agenda," the petitioner responded. "It is not our intention to stop the march, we want that the immoral representation of it [online] stops," he further said.

"Look at last year's [social media] posts," the petitioner said in response to Jilani when she asked what his issue with the march was.

"Freedom of expression cannot be banned," Justice Sheikh pointed out during the hearing.

"We need to hear what public institutions have to say on this," the LHC chief justice said while ordering for the FIA and police to submit their responses on the matter. "How will the police provide security?" the chief justice questioned.

On March 8 of last year, women across Pakistan came together to participate in the Aurat March 2019.

However, the backlash against the march and its organisers was swift. The backlash began with a trickle of comments on Twitter and Facebook, then escalated as people began faking and doctoring images of posters to circulate them on social media and stir up further controversy.