‘Aurat March can’t be stopped under Constitution’: LHC directs govt to speed up decision on clearance

Updated March 03, 2020

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Court says march can't be stopped under Constitution of Pakistan but adds that the gathering should refrain from hate speech, immorality. — Herald/File
Court says march can't be stopped under Constitution of Pakistan but adds that the gathering should refrain from hate speech, immorality. — Herald/File

The Lahore High Court on Tuesday wrapped up a petition against the holding of Aurat March, reiterating its earlier remarks that the gathering could not be stopped under the Constitution and directing the Lahore district authorities to speed up their decision on an application seeking permission to hold the march.

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

His petition also termed the march “against the norms of Islam” with a “hidden agenda” to spread “vulgarity and hatred”.

During today’s hearing, LHC Chief Justice Mamoon Rashid Sheikh said “under the law and Constitution of the country, the Aurat March cannot be stopped” but went on to add that the marchers should “refrain from hate speech and immorality”.

Earlier, the police department submitted a written response on the matter and said that the march will be provided foolproof security. But the police did remind the organisers that Lahore’s Mall Road was off-limits for public gatherings of any kind.

“Police has heard the objections [on the march] from various civil society members,” the reply read. It said objections did not concern the holding of the march but on the “banners and slogans used in the march”.

Reiterating his statement from the previous hearing, the petitioner, Azhar Siddiqui, told the court: “We never wanted for the Aurat March to be stopped.”

Nighat Dad – a digital rights expert and activist who is defending the holding of the march in court – told the petitioner: “You wrote in your petition that the march is anti-state, which is a very dangerous claim.”

“Women are the beauty of our society. Then they talk about slogans like 'Mera jism, meri marzi' (my body, my choice). The perception in the world is that we oppress our women,” Siddiqui responded.

The chief justice asked how many participants the organisers were expecting to which Dad said they were expecting “at least four to five thousand people including men, women and transgender people will take part in it.”

“We are ready to give guarantee that no actions against the law will be take place at the march,” Dad said, after which guidelines for participants of the march were presented in court. After hearing arguments from both sides, the LHC chief justice said:

“There are no two opinions about women’s rights and it is the responsibility of the organisers of the Aurat March to ensure that no immoral slogans are raised at the march.”

“Under the law and constitution of Pakistan, this march cannot be stopped,” he added.

The judge also observed that the petitioner had no issue with the march being held.

“The organisers and participants of the march should remain within the ambit of the law. The police DIG Operations has assured foolproof security for the march,” Justice Sheikh said.

Wrapping up the petition, the court directed the Lahore district government to speed up its decision on the organisers’ application to hold the march.

What is the Aurat March?

The ‘Aurat March’, as it has come to be known since its first iteration in 2018, was organised by Hum Aurtain – a feminist collective. It has a manifesto demanding basic rights for women in each field of life.

For the past two years, it has been organised to coincide with the International Women's Day on March 8, which is also the scheduled date for the rally this year.

Last year, the holding of the rally led to a backlash against the organisers and participants for “violating Islamic principles” and “disrespecting women”. Most critics had issues with the placards and banners used during the march, which they said transgressed Pakistan's cultural values. There were also reports of the organ­isers of the march receiving threats on social media.

Read: MMA lawmaker says will seek police FIR against Aurat March