A Pakistani singer who two years ago accused a pop star of groping her in a recording studio now faces up to three years in prison for “criminal defamation.”
Meesha Shafi’s allegations against Ali Zafar sparked Pakistan’s #MeToo movement, which allows women to publicly accuse men of sexual harassment and assault without providing any evidence. Shafi attempted to have her case adjudicated under Pakistan’s law against sexual harassment in the workplace, but because she was not an employee of Zafar’s when they toured together, multiple courts have thrown out her case. In order for her to get her allegations adjudicated under the law against sexual assault outside the workplace, she would have had to file a police report, which she has not.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Shafi, along with several other women who made allegations against Zafar, is now being prosecuted for “criminal defamation” and faces up to three years in prison. The charge was brought against Shafi and the other accusers after Zafar made a complaint to authorities.
Neither side has proved their case, yet activists have claimed that charging Shafi will keep other women from bringing forward their allegations. If Shafi lied, however, then there is no reason to believe real victims wouldn’t come forward simply because a false accuser was punished.
Zafar has adamantly denied Shafi’s claims as well as those of other women, saying the allegations have hurt his career.
“By the time I prove my case, the damage will be irreparable,” he said, according to the Journal. “It already is, in many ways.”
Shafi claimed Zafar groped her multiple times, but her court allegations focus on an alleged incident in December 2017 at a recording studio in Zafar’s house. The two were rehearsing for a concert, which continued afterward as planned. In addition to the criminal complaint Zafar filed over what he called a smear campaign, the pop star also filed a civil defamation claim, seeking more than $6 million in damages from Shafi, the Journal reported.
One of the women who accused Zafar has since retracted her claim and apologized, so Zafar asked prosecutors to remove her from the defamation case. They agreed.
It is difficult in Pakistan for women to come forward and to receive equal treatment. From the Journal:
A march in the capital, Islamabad, on March 8 for International Women’s Day was guarded by rings of police, after attendees were attacked last year by stone-throwing men who were incensed by their slogan, “My body, my choice.” The marchers were accused in an online campaign this year of blasphemy, based on a misinterpretation of a banner, a dangerous and often lethal charge to make in Pakistan.
Government officials say they are making progress on women’s rights, while acknowledging there remains much to do. In December, the government instituted a new rape law—which needs to be approved by Parliament to become permanent—aimed at speeding up convictions and toughening sentences. A law passed last year strengthened women’s property rights. The government says a program to give a monthly income supplement to the poorest families helps women.
Of course, “speeding up” rape convictions, as has been seen in other countries, often leads to evidence being ignored and the accused losing rights to defend themselves.