Plea for case against Aurat March participants dismissed in Lahore

Published April 16, 2021
Aurat March participants holding placards.—Photo courtesy of Amnesty International
Aurat March participants holding placards.—Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

LAHORE: A sessions court has dismissed a petition seeking an order for police to register a case against social activists and over 200 unidentified participants in Aurat March held last month in Islamabad.

A citizen namely Khalid Mehmood, the petitioner, said the Ravi Road police SHO refused to lodge a FIR on his application. He pleaded that the participants in the march committed multiple criminal offences besides displaying objectionable slogans.

In his decision, Additional District & Sessions Judge Hafiz Rizwan Aziz observed that the Aurat March was a peaceful demonstration raising the issue of gender-based oppression and violence, a social issue that deserves attention. He said there had been no reported instance of violence or public disorder exercised by the participants in the march, and in fact the protests took place in broad daylight, in the presence of police personnel and with the permission of the city administration.

The judge remarked that penalising speech acts which are otherwise constitutionally protected needed to be specific and narrowly applied so as to ensure the exercise of constitutional rights unless they specially fall under reasonable restrictions under the law. He noted that the poster allegedly displayed at the march did not specifically name any holy personage, thus not attracting any defamation provisions.

“The fact that the petitioner took offense from a vague slogan and labeled it as blasphemy reflects his own state of mind and pattern of thought. He has alleged a very serious offense without any iota of supporting material,” AD&SJ Aziz held.

The judge observed that this was an alarming trend in society where such serious allegations are routinely leveled on the basis of subjective inferences and interpretations forcefully imposed upon speech of the citizens.

“This trend is dangerous because every speech has a potential to be twisted and given a meaning of one’s own liking or disliking,” he added.

Besides merits, the judge also dismissed the petition on the ground of legal and territorial jurisdiction of the sessions court to entertain it. He ruled that this was neither the correct forum for this petition, nor did the speech acts identified in the application constitute offences as claimed by the petitioner. The police were right to exercise caution in admitting an FIR against a constitutionally protected gathering raising slogans regarding social issues. The judge also noted that the march under question was held in Islamabad, not in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2021

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