Actresses caught in crossfire of political battle in Pakistan
A YouTube personality, renowned as Major (r) Adil Raja made controversial claims in a video on Twitter on New Year’s Eve, alleging that top military officials in Pakistan engaged in scandalous behavior and used women including actresses as “honey pots.” The video included the initials of four women, leading to widespread speculation and sharing of memes and videos with their names and images.
This tactic of using women to shame political opponents is not uncommon in Pakistan, and lawyer and activist Nighat Dad believes that the YouTube personality’s video was part of a planned attack, rather than an isolated incident.
The YouTube personality later denied naming anyone and accused actor Kubra Khan of defamation. In a subsequent video, he expressed regret over the lack of agency women have in the situation.
Journalist and author Sanam Maher and journalist Amber Rahim Shamsi both commented on the use of scandal and allegations of immorality as tactics to control and undermine women in Pakistani politics. Shamsi explained that because women are often considered the custodians of morality, the implications of such tactics are graver for them.
Shamsi argued that there is little hope for change until more women call out and act against those who use their profession and gender for revenge and political purposes, and that the onus of protection should not be on the targets of such attacks. She also mentioned that women politicians in Pakistan, including Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto in the past and Maryam Nawaz Sharif and PTI chief Imran Khan in the present, have frequently been targeted and vilified.
Former MQM parliamentarian Saman Jafri added that the creation and circulation of scandal is common in Pakistani society, and that if a woman speaks out against such a campaign, she will be vilified and her character attacked by online trolls and media analysts.
Lawyer and activist Nighat Dad believes that it may be difficult for the actresses targeted in the YouTube video to sue the YouTuber for defamation due to the legal definition of defamation. However, she suggests that the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cyber Crime Wing may be able to take up their complaints under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) due to the widespread sharing of their names and images.
In contrast, the institutions and politicians explicitly named in the video have a stronger case for defamation. Politician Sharmila Faruqi lamented the ineffectiveness of defamation laws in Pakistan, which often take years to conclude and do not provide concrete relief to the person defamed, particularly for women who are also subjected to victim blaming. However, the Pakistani government, which is currently in power, has expressed support for the actresses and urged the FIA to take legal action against those spreading salacious claims about them, calling it a malicious campaign of character assassination.