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WAF Condemns Use Of Criminal Defamation To Silence Debate On Sexual Harassment

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The Women’s Action Forum – Karachi Chapter has condemned the ‘alarming’ rise in the registration of criminal defamation registration cases against individuals who come out against sexual harassment and violence.

In a statement issued by the rights organisation, the WAF stated that such defamation cases are detrimental to the discourse on the issue of sexual harassment and violence.

The organisation expressed concern about how the Defamation Ordinance 2000 and Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 are registering an increased use to not only silence and intimidate victims but also those expressing support to victims, commenting publicly on the issue, or reporting it in a professional capacity.

The statement also said that the effectiveness of the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace 2010 has been reduced by this increase in the use of criminal defamation. It said that legal instruments meant to help women come forward will lose their purpose if criminal defamation proceedings are initiated against such individuals.

The statement also lamented the fact that when it comes to defamation, authorities take instant action as opposed to the ‘apathetic’ response to complaints against harassment.

WAF is of the view that the weaponisation of criminal defamation and its use as a silencing tool gives relief to perpetrators of harassment while victims who often have no legal sources available to them are made to defend themselves against counter-accusations.

The organisation also provided remedies to this issue, including decriminalising defamation and amending the Defamation Ordinance to prevent its misuse against victims of sexual harassment and violence.

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It has also called for FIA to act lawfully and fairly and that there should be public accountability and transparency of cases pertaining to sexual crimes.

In April last year, Meesha Shafi had accused Ali Zafar of sexually harassing her. In response, a defamation lawsuit was filed against her. However, she is still fighting the case. Meesha Shafi has the advantage of being a renowned name in the industry and possesses the means to fight a case of this nature. But she, too, had to face a great deal of vitriol when she decided to go public with harassment allegations. Unfortunately, majority of the women find themselves without the financial and legal means to pursue such legal battles and are hence silenced.

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