On 13 January, Pakistani artist and activist Leena Ghani shared images on Twitter about the lawsuit she has filed against actor Ali Zafar on grounds of alleged sexual harassment and defamation. As recompense for the "injurious grief and mental agony" she suffered, Ghani has claimed Rs 500,000,000.
After years of personal and legal attacks by Mr. Zafar, I have decided to stand up for myself and fight back.
" Leena (@Leena_Ghani) January 13, 2021
In November 2018, Zafar charged Ghani and eight others including actor and singer Meesha Shafi with a civil defamation lawsuit, alleging a smear campaign against him. Citing "character assassination," the accused were booked under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 " a law that is focused partly on protecting women from online harassment. Their charges carry a jail sentence of up to three years.
This is one of Pakistan's most high-profile #MeToo cases. It began in April 2018 when Shafi tweeted about her own experiences of sexual harassment, alleging Zafar had subjected her to harassment of "a physical nature". Over time, more women came forward on social media, alleging harassment by the actor.
Zafar has denied all of Shafi's claims and as a result of his 2018 lawsuit, the court placed a gag order on Shafi that still prevents her from publicly discussing these allegations.
In July 2018, Shafi started legal proceedings to take Zafar to court for sexual harassment in the workplace, but her case was dismissed on technical grounds. The incident allegedly occurred when she and Zafar were rehearsing for an event where they had to perform, but the complaint was rejected by the ombudsperson on the grounds that the petitioner was not an employee and therefore not covered under Pakistan's Protection against Harassment of Women at the Work Place Act 2010. Two days ago, the Supreme Court admitted Shafi's petition for regular hearing.
Since Ali's 2018 defamation case, the accused started facing severe online harassment, including rape and death threats, and claim they were targeted by Pakistani media.
On 15 December 2020, the accused were declared "guilty" for running a social media vilification campaign against Zafar and court proceedings began.
As the court cases continue, Ghani told The Guardian on 1 January 2021: "People keep saying #MeToo is dying in Pakistan, which is so terrible because it's not like women are not getting harassed and assaulted and raped, but we are being silenced. We all realise that Pakistan's #MeToo movement hinges on this case. The whole system is against us; Ali Zafar is a powerful man, and going to court is hard " but what can be harder than lying and living with that lie. I would rather go to jail."
Over the past two years, Zafar has made several public appearances in defense of name and reputation. Last month, he was awarded the Pride of Pakistan, among the country's highest honours.