LAHORE: Deputy Commissioner (DC) Rafia Haider has rejected permission to organise the Aurat March on the grounds of security concerns, ‘controversial’ cards and banners supporting women’s rights, and the likelihood of clashes with members of Jamaat-i-Islami’s ‘Haya March’.
Civil society, political parties, and rights organisations condemned the deputy commissioner for rejecting the plea to organise Aurat March on International Women’s Day on March 8.
The Aurat March organizing committee had requested a no objection certificate (NOC) from the district administration to hold a rally on March 8 at Nasser Bagh, Lahore, followed by a march around the perimeter of the park.
However, DC Haider rejected the plea in the wake of threat alerts from security agencies.
“Following the current security scenario, threat alerts, and law and order situation, and in light of activities like controversial cards and banners for awareness of women’s rights and the strong reservation of the general public and religious organizations, especially JI’s women’s and student wings, who had also announced a program against the Aurat March,” said a statement issued by the DC.
March body vows to go ahead as per plan on March 8
There is fear of conflict between the two groups, therefore, the NOC may not be issued for the holding of the Aurat March and Convention at Alhamra Hall, The Mall, and Aiwan-i-Iqbal, and a rally from the Lahore Press Club to Charing Cross, and also at a rally at Nasser Bagh, on March 8 to avoid any law and order situation or mishap.
The Aurat March organising committee strongly condemned the DC for rejecting their application to hold the event. “Women, khawaja sara community, transgender persons, gender non-conforming people, and allies of the Aurat March have the right to the assembly under Article 16 of the Constitution of Pakistan,” they said.
They said that the DC denied the NOC under the pressure of the JI’s “Haya March.”
They said the denial to hold Aurat March was against their constitutional right, and the DC did not take action against the group for inciting violence against them.
They said they were denied permission to gather at Nasser Bagh and other avenues, such as the Lahore Press Club, Alhamra, and The Mall. “We do not require an NOC to exercise our constitutional right to march. There is no legitimate “public order” rationale to prevent us from assembling, marching and making our voices heard,” reads the statement.
They added the administration has forgotten that the courts have already upheld their right to hold Aurat March in 2020. “Lahore and Islamabad high courts upheld the march’s constitutional right to speech and assembly and directed the government to grant permission to carry out the march,” the committee said.
They said they would hold the march on March 8 and would not allow anyone to snatch their constitutional right.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan also strongly condemned the Lahore district administration for rejecting Aurat March organisers permission to hold a public rally marking International Women’s Day on March 8.
“It is regrettable that their right to peaceful assembly is routinely challenged by the district administration because ‘controversial’ placards and ‘strong reservations’ from the public and religious organisations ostensibly create law-and-order risks. This is a poor defence.”
The HRCP demanded that the caretaker Punjab government uphold the Aurat March’s right to freedom of peaceful assembly and provide the marchers with full security.
One of the committee members, Hiba, told Dawn that the DC allowed the JI to hold a rally to celebrate their “Haya Day” but refused to permit to hold Aurat March.
She said the administration was rejecting their plea discriminatory. “We’ll approach the court to get permission as the march organizers got permission to hold a march in the past too,” she said.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2023
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