A Pakistani singer whose accusations that a pop star groped her sparked the country's #MeToo movement faces three years in jail for 'criminal defamation' over damage to his reputation.
Meesha Shafi, 39, claimed Ali Zafar, 40, groped her at a recording studio in his home in December 2017 ahead of a concert in Pakistan, which the two went on to perform in together.
Two years ago Pakistani singer Meesha Shafi set off the country’s most high-profile #MeToo debate when she accused fellow pop star Ali Zafar of groping her. Now she is being prosecuted on a criminal defamation charge and is facing possible prison time. https://t.co/ABU3jOjIHq— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) March 12, 2021
Zafar stringently denies the claims that he inappropriately touched Shafi, and has launched a criminal defamation charge against her due to 'irreparable' damage to his career. The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Eight other people who accused Zafar online have also been charged.
Shafi - who is in Canada but will be returning to Pakistan for work - dubbed the legal system 'rigged' adding: 'Which woman has got justice in a case of this nature and at what cost?'
Her lawyers will challenge the charge, warning it will stop other women from coming forward with harassment allegations in the future.
Shafi previously took her sexual harassment case to the High Court in Pakistan after authorities ruled her claim against Zafar is not covered by a law designed to protect women from workplace harassment.
A separate law covers accusations of harassment outside the workplace - but accusers must file a police report, which shaken victims often find difficult to do.
Reports from Shafi - who alleges that Zafar groped her more than once - sparked a flurry of social media posts setting off the country's #MeToo movement.
Other women came forward claiming the pop star inappropriately touched them too, but Zafar denies all accusations and has not been charged.
Shafi shared a Tweet in April 2018 making the accusation, saying: 'If this can happen to someone like me, an established artist, then it can happen to any young woman and that concerns me gravely.'
He has launched a criminal case against Shafi for what he dubbed an online smear campaign, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Join us for LUMS Live 67 as we discuss the achievements and struggles of women on International Women’s Day. Moderated by Ms. Mehreen Zahra-Malik, the session includes Ms. Meesha Shafi, Ms. Fatima Razzaq, Dr. Nida Kirmani, & Mr. Adnan Malik as panelists.#LearningWithoutBorders pic.twitter.com/g1O4FLFac2— LUMS (@LifeAtLUMS) March 8, 2021
He has also launched a civil defamation case, demanding $6million (£4.3million) from Shafi, saying her accusations cost him multinational cooperation sponsorships and a position as judge on a music talent show.
He said: 'By the time I prove my case, the damage will be irreparable. It already is, in many ways.'
Shafi's supporters say her legal battle could make women less likely to come forward with complaints in the future.
Her lawyer Khwaja Ahmad Hosain said the case 'will decide on the scope of the law for keeping women safe in the workplace' adding: 'The outcome will be important for all women in this country.'
Shafi first went to the provincial ombudsperson, followed by the provincial governor and then the top court in Punjab with her allegation against Zafar - but all three threw out the case.
The court claimed she was on a short-term contract and was working for an events management company and not Zafar, meaning workplace harassment rules do not apply.
It said if she was deemed an employee, men would not want to hire women under short-term contracts for fear of being accused of sexual harassment in the future.
A report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 2019 found that women in the deeply-conservative state are still facing economic inequality, high amounts of sexual and domestic violence and are being forced into marriages.
Pakistan was last year ranked 151st in a list of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum - which looks at gender disparity in several areas.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.