Meesha Harassment Case: Activist Leena Ghani Records Testimony, Denies Allegations Of ‘Smear Campaign’
Press Release: On Wednesday, Leena Ghani recorded her statement as a character witness in the civil defamation case filed by Ali Zafar against Ms. Meesha Shafi. Appearing before the Additional District Judge, Azhar Iqbal Ranjha, Ms. Ghani reinstated her support for Ms. Shafi and confirming her own experience of sexual harassment by Ali Zafar.
Ms. Ghani, an artist who is a graduate of NCA and a human rights activist, recounted her experience of sexual harassment at the hands of Ali Zafar before the court. She testified that she knew Ali Zafar as she was his senior in college, and through common friends, including his now-wife, Ayesha Fazli for whom she still has great respect and sympathy for. Ms. Ghani recounted several incidents in which Ali Zafar was sexually inappropriate towards her, such as making sexualised remarks and directing unwanted physical actions towards her. Ms. Ghani told the court that on a trip to London with her family in 2014 and on June 9, 2014 she told the court that Mr. Zafar made a sexualised and unwanted comment towards her during a social gathering. The incident shocked her and made her feel objectified. During the same trip, she recounted that at a dinner with family and friends, Mr. Zafar inquired about her whether she was a virgin or not while also drawing attention to her status as a divorced woman. This greatly upset and distressed her. On another instance, Ali Zafar made a comment saying if they weren’t friends, they’d be ‘locked alone in a room’. The comment made Ms. Ghani so terrified that she had to immediately leave the gathering.
Ms. Ghani said she finally decided to tell her friends and family about the incidents of harassment, realising it was a pattern of behaviour. They advised her not to take up the matter as it would damager her reputation. She stated that she reduced her interactions with Ali Zafar drastically after that.
She strongly rebutted allegations that her coming forward was part of a coordinated smear campaign against Ms. Zafar to ruin his career. She said that she did not have a pre-existing friendship with Ms. Shafi nor did they know each other at NCA as Leena graduated in 2001 and Ms. Shafi enrolled in the college in 2004. She only met Meesha in 2012 when Hello Magazine fired her to do her make and the interaction was retracted to the professional engagement. Ms. Ghani stated that she found out about Ms. Shafi’s allegations against Mr. Zafar through Twitter, when she posted her experience publicly. She submitted evidence to the court of a conversation with a friend who alerted her to the tweet. She stated that #MeToo was a global movement that marked a cultural shift in women speaking out against harassment and that Meesha’s public testimony gave her the strength to break her own silence.
Ms. Ghani opened up about the toll speaking out against a powerful and famous man such as Ali Zafar took on her. She told the court that her friends and family discouraged her from going public because they feared for her safety and wellbeing since the issue of harassment is still a taboo in Pakistan. She has since been the target of trolling, many of Mr. Zafar’s supports have sent her death and rape threats. She also appraised the court with the harassment she faced at the hands of the FIA and the FIR lodged against her and seven others at the behest of Mr. Zafar. However, she stated that she felt it was a matter of public interest to share her own experience because Mr. Zafar exhibited a pattern of behaviour towards women. She told the court that since her statement a number of women reached out to her with similar experiences at the hands of Mr. Zafar.
Comparing the to difficulties she and others who spoke out have faced, she pointed that Mr. Zafar has since been accredited with the Pride of Performance Award, appointed as Ambassador to NUML Knowledge City, and his movie Teefa in Trouble, released after the accusations were made, went on to make crores.