Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks

A women's rights activist, Tahira Abdullah, holds a placard at a protest rally in front of the National Press Club in Islamabad on April 8, 2021, demanding an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan over his remarks on sexual violence against women in Pakistan. (AN Photo)
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Updated 09 April 2021

Rights activists, opposition politicians demand apology from PM Khan over rape remarks

  • Khan said rising “vulgarity” was responsible for an increase in the number of cases of sexual violence, during a live broadcast last Sunday
  • Arslan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News Khan "never engaged in victim blaming"

ISLAMABAD: Civil society activists organized a protest at the National Press Club on Thursday, demanding an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for a recent statement on sexual violence against women, where he said wearing the veil, the traditional Islamic head covering, would protect women from sexual assault and not lead men into temptation.
In a statement that has caused outrage among activists and opposition politicians, Khan said rising “vulgarity” was responsible for an increase in the number of cases of sexual violence.
Members of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have said Khan’s statement was misinterpreted and misunderstood.
Arslan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News the prime minister had “never engaged in victim blaming,” adding that certain segments of his interview were lumped together, causing “misunderstanding.”
“Initially, he spoke about how the government had put in place robust rape laws to deal with the rising cases of sexual assault,” Khalid said in a phone interview. “And then, in a different context, he spoke about society, mentioning pardah [veil] which is not just a piece of cloth for women but also [a symbol of] respect.”
“People understand it as being specific to women, but it applies to both genders,” Khalid said. “It is about respecting other people’s space, about yourself when you interact with others.”




Protestors gather at the National Press Club in Islamabad to demand an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for his controversial remarks regarding rising sex crime cases in the country on April 8, 2021. (AN photo)

Asked what the prime minister meant when he spoke about “vulgarity” giving rise to sexual assault cases, ruling party senator Faisal Javed Khan said the PM could not be accused of victim-blaming.
“He did not put the responsibility on the victims [of sexual violence] or what they were wearing when he used that word,” Khan said in a phone interview. “Nowhere did he explicitly say that. He said that the root cause was the presence of such media being readily available on phones which everyone has, and we need to fight this together as a society.”
The government issued an official statement on Wednesday saying Khan’s comments had been “distorted to mean something that he never intended.”
“The Prime Minister said that our strict anti-rape laws alone will not be able to stem the rise in sex crime,” the statement said. “The whole society has to fight it together.”
Major clerics and religious bodies also announced their support on Thursday for PM Khan’s statement, saying “obscenity and nudity played a key role behind instances of molestation and abuse” and the prime minister’s stance would be “lauded” at Friday congregation prayers around the country.
But women’s rights activists say they were dismayed.
“The prime minister needs to have some gender awareness,” said Farzana Bari, an organizer of Thursday’s protest. “How can a head of a government make such irresponsible statements which are indirectly creating sympathy for rapists? This is why we are here since we demand something better from him and the state.”
Bari said Khan’s comments reflected a lack of understanding about crimes of sexual violence.




Protestors gather at the National Press Club in Islamabad to demand an apology from Prime Minister Imran Khan for his controversial remarks regarding rising sex crime cases in the country on April 8, 2021. (AN photo)

Renowned women’s rights activist Tahira Abdullah said the prime minister’s statement betrayed a “misogynistic” mindset.
“He has gone beyond the pale, absolutely, of what is acceptable,” she told Arab News.
Abdullah said Khan not only owed an apology to women but also to Pakistani men.
“To say that men cannot control themselves and resist the temptation of women without a veil in the public is to imply that men cannot control their ‘rapist tendencies,’” she said.
The demands made by activists for an apology in Thursday’s protest were also mirrored by opposition leaders like Senator Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
“Blaming vulgarity for the rise in rape cases is ridiculous as this removes the onus of responsibility from the rapist,” she said in a written message. “Rape is an act of violence where the rapist wants to establish his power and authority. A person’s body and autonomy are violated. Is the PM telling the women of this country that it is their fault if they get raped?“
Muhammad Zubair, a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) politician, had the same query.
“His analysis is not just completely wrong, but it is dangerous for the prime minister of a country to suggest that the blame [for sexual assaults] falls on women and the way they dress up,” he told Arab News over the phone. “Victims of rape can be as young as 5 or 6 years of age … How can you blame them or imply that they somehow provoked men into committing such act of violence?“
“Without question, there must be an apology,” Zubair added.


Pakistan’s Hazara women strike back with martial arts

Updated 10 April 2021

Pakistan’s Hazara women strike back with martial arts

  • In Quetta’s two largest martial arts academies, a majority of students are young Hazara women
  • Say karate makes them feel safe and confident amid the violence

Hundreds of Pakistani Hazara women are learning how to deliver side kicks and elbow blows as martial arts booms within the marginalized community.

Hazaras, who are mainly Shia Muslims, have faced decades of sectarian violence in the southwestern city of Quetta, living in two separate enclaves cordoned off by checkpoints and armed guards to protect them.

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, students of the Hazara community take part in a martial arts training class at the Kazmi International Wushu Academy, in Quetta. (AFP)

Women must also contend with routine harassment from men, with groping commonplace in crowded markets or public transport.

“We can’t stop bomb blasts with karate, but with self-defense, I have learnt to feel confident,” 20-year-old Nargis Batool told AFP.

“Everyone here knows that I am going to the club. Nobody dares say anything to me while I am out.”

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, female students of the Hazara community warm-up before a martial arts training class at the Kazmi International Wushu Academy, in Quetta. (AFP)

Up to 4,000 people are attending regular classes in more than 25 clubs in Balochistan province, of which Quetta is the capital, according to Ishaq Ali, head of the Balochistan Wushu Kung Fu Association, which oversees the sport.

The city’s two largest academies, which train around 250 people each, told AFP the majority of their students were young Hazara women.

Many of them go on to earn money from the sport, taking part in frequent competitions.

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, martial arts student Fatima Batool of the Hazara community practices Shaolin Kung Fu during a self-defence martial arts training class, on a mountain on the outskirts of Quetta. (AFP)

It is still unusual for women to play sport in deeply conservative Pakistan where families often forbid it, but martial arts teacher Fida Hussain Kazmi says exceptions are being made.

“In general, women cannot exercise in our society... but for the sake of self-defense and her family, they are being allowed.”

The uptake is also credited to national champions Nargis Hazara and Kulsoom Hazara, who have won medals in international competitions.

In this picture taken on January 31, 2021, students of the Hazara community take part in a martial arts training class at the Kazmi International Wushu Academy, in Quetta. (AFP)

Kazmi says he has trained hundreds of women over the years, after learning the sport from a Chinese master in the eastern city of Lahore.

The 41-year-old offers two hours of training six days a week for 500 rupees ($3) but gives free classes to women who have lost a relative to militant violence.

“The Hazara community is facing many problems... but with karate we can begin to feel safe,” said 18-year-old student Syeda Qubra, whose brother was killed in a bomb blast in 2013.


Some Pakistani journalists find breathing room on YouTube as censorship grows

Updated 10 April 2021

Some Pakistani journalists find breathing room on YouTube as censorship grows

  • Information minister Shibli Faraz says no censorship in Pakistan, press enjoys “complete independence and freedom to report” 
  • In digital age, growing number of Pakistani journalists turning to Internet, particularly YouTube, to tap into platform’s ever-growing audiences

LAHORE: The last news channel renowned Pakistani journalist and TV anchor Najam Sethi worked for received several warnings from the country’s electronic media regulatory authority over the contents of his show, including one in April 2019 saying the show would be banned and the channel’s license revoked if Sethi did not apologize to Prime Minister Imran Khan for spreading “false news” about him. 

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority did not specify what news it had found to be false but said Sethi was being served the notice over a complaint filed with PEMRA council of complaints by Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

After Channel 24 was taken off air at least four times between 2019-20, Sethi knew it was time to move his talk show, Sethi Se Sawal, to YouTube where he now has over 250,000 subscribers. 

Explaining why he switched over to YouTube, Sethi told Arab News in a phone interview: “After various TV channels were restrained from hiring me in 2019 because of pressure from the government or establishment.” 

“YouTube is a breath of fresh air to avoid censorship,” he added. 

Indeed, Sethi is among a growing number of Pakistani journalists who have turned to the Internet, particularly to YouTube channels, amid what editors and reporters call a “widening” crackdown on the media. 

Journalists’ complaints range from direct edicts to editors and producers not to air opposition voices or publish news critical of the government or the military; pulling TV stations from transmission or newspapers from circulation; and targeting the advertising revenue of dissenting media. In 2018 alone, over 3,000 journalists and media workers were laid off. Thousands more have been dismissed since, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ).

Muhammad Usman, Director News at Neo News, a mainstream TV channel, said government advertisements to news channels had decreased by more than 50 percent since the government of Khan came into power in 2018. Two other journalists, part of senior management at top-tier news channels, also confirmed this. 

“For mainstream channels a big chunk of their revenue came from government ads,” Usman told Arab News. “Due to cuts of ad revenue, there were layoffs … In the coming days things will only get worse.”

In 2019, responding to criticism over the government reducing ad revenue for the media, then Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain said Pakistani media houses needed to revamp their revenue models to reduce reliance on government advertising. 

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority did not reply to text messages seeking comment for this story. But Information Minister Shibli Faraz denied there was censorship in Pakistan. 

“There is no concept of media censorship in the country, whatsoever,” he told Arab News. “Media in Pakistan enjoys complete independence and freedom to report, be it politics, economy or any other sphere.” 

Journalists like Matiullah Jan disagree. 

On June 4, 2018, then Pakistan military spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor, held a press conference and showed a graphic linking a number of prominent journalists to an alleged troll account on Twitter through which he said they had shared anti-state and anti-army propaganda. The journalists featured on the graphic included Jan, then an anchor with broadcaster Waqt News. 

In October that year, Jan left his job amid speculation he was forced to resign over his critical views of the military. The Pakistan army vehemently denies it censors news outlets. 

Shut out from the country’s mainstream media, Jan started a YouTube channel. 

“The reason I started the channel was that at the time I had left Waqt TV; I could not write in any publication,” Jan told Arab News. “There was no job for me.” 

“What we can say on our YouTube channels would be difficult for anyone to say on a TV channel today,” he said. “In this crisis of censorship, YouTube is like a ventilator for us journalists.” 

But censorship is not the only factor pushing journalists toward platforms like YouTube; in the age of digital media, many have launched YouTube channels to tap into the platform’s ever-growing audiences. 

A 2019 profiling study by YouTube showed 73% of Pakistanis who were online watched YouTube every month and 78% of YouTube users in Pakistan said the platform was their first stop when looking for any kind of video. ‘News’ is among the top eight categories of content Pakistanis watch on YouTube, the study said. 

Journalist Imran Shafqat said YouTube had become a viable option for many Pakistani journalists, especially in an environment of censorship, because it gave them access to large audiences. 

That’s why, Shafqat said, he had rented out a small studio in Lahore and started making YouTube videos after the news channel he worked for folded due to financial constraints in 2019. 

“I have no other job right now,” he said. “I am making more money on YouTube than I ever did at any media channel.”

But authorities are beginning to keep a close eye on social media content as well now, journalists say, increasingly using laws such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) to crack down on those who had gone online with criticism of the government and the military. 

Sethi also said he had received numerous calls about the content of his YouTube channel, with authorities warning him to “be careful, please.” 

“To which I reply: ‘Sir, when we were talking on mainstream media you pushed us here [to YouTube]. This is not how it will work now.’” 


Pakistan says bodies found of 16 miners missing since 2011

Updated 09 April 2021

Pakistan says bodies found of 16 miners missing since 2011

  • Forensic experts carried out the exhumations after a villager in Kohat district alerted them to what he assumed was a burial site
  • Authorities said police would continue investigating the deaths and try to determine who killed the miners

PESHAWAR: Pakistani police said they found a mass grave on Friday containing the bodies of 16 coal miners who went missing in the country's northwest a decade ago and were believed to be abducted by militants.
The miners went missing in 2011 while on their way to work at a mine in the district of Kohat, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) south of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
No one had claimed to have abducted the miners, but militant groups were active in the area at the time.
Forensic experts carried out the exhumations after a villager in the remote mountainous area alerted them to what he assumed was a burial site, said police official Aleem Khan.
Family members of the victims were able to identify the bodies from the clothes and remains, Khan said, and the remains were handed over to the families for burial. The miners were from the town of Shangla in Swat Valley.
Khan said police would continue investigating the deaths to try to determine who killed the miners.
Although attacks on miners and other laborers are common in the southwestern Balochistan province, such violence is rare elsewhere in Pakistan.
Earlier this year in Balochistan, militants from the Islamic State group abducted and killed 11 coal miners, members of Pakistan's minority Shiites.


Pakistan's forex reserves at comfortable level to make payment for imports — experts

Updated 09 April 2021

Pakistan's forex reserves at comfortable level to make payment for imports — experts

  • The country's foreign currency reserves increased to $22.18 billion after four years, following significant Eurobond inflows
  • The situation has not done much for the national currency that may come under pressure in the long term due to debt servicing

KARACHI: Pakistan's foreign exchange reserves have reached $22.18 billion, with more than $16 billion held by the central bank, after a span of four years, as the country raised $2.5 billion by issuing Eurobonds, said an official statement released on Thursday.

"The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has received the proceeds of government's $2.5 billion Eurobond issuance in its account," said the statement circulated on Thursday night. "As a result, SBP's foreign exchange reserves closed above $16 billion, their highest level since July 2017."

According to economic analysts, the inflows have brought the government in a more comfortable position to pay for its imports, including any COVID-19 vaccines.

"The inflow of $2.5 billion has raised the cushion of the State Bank and it will also improve the country's current account position," Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri, member of the government's Economic Advisory Council (EAC), told Arab News on Friday.

"The inflows have made it easy for the country to make payments for imports of COVID-19 vaccine, wheat or sugar due to an improved reserves position," he continued. "This is also the right time to tap international market."

Some economists also suggested that Pakistan should utilize the Eurobond proceeds to pay off some of its debts.

"The country has arranged the liquidity to pay off previous external debts because time to make these payments is due and the prices of oil are also increasing with the ease of lockdown," Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said.

"For the payment of external debts and oil imports the Eurobond proceeds can be utilized," he added.

The inflows did not generate any major fluctuations in the currency and interbank markets as the rupee only appreciated 0.05 percent to close at Rs152.94 against the greenback on Friday.

"Going forward the rupee can come under pressure due to debt servicing since the country is availing G20 debt relief at present," Samiullah Tariq, head of research at the Pakistan-Kuwait Investment, told Arab News. "Only strong and enduring inflows can resist the fall of rupee. Otherwise, we expect three to four percent depreciation in the long run."

Despite its limited impact on the national currency, an official statement announced that the country had returned to the international market for the first time by issuing securities since 2017.

"Pakistan has entered the international capital market after a gap of over three years by successfully raising $2.5 billion through a multi-tranche transaction of 5, 10 and 30-year Eurobonds," the finance ministry said on Thursday.

"The transaction generated great interest as leading global investors from Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the US participated in the global investor calls and the order book," it added.

This is for the first time that Pakistan has adopted a program-based approach with registration of Global Medium-Term Note program.

"The program will allow Pakistan to tap the market at short notice," the ministry continued in its statement. "The government intends to make full use of this program and become a regular issuer in the International Capital Markets."


Pakistani refinery seeks used complex to upgrade operations

Updated 09 April 2021

Pakistani refinery seeks used complex to upgrade operations

  • Offers from interested bidders have been invited with a closing date of April 23
  • If the purchase goes ahead, Pakistan Refinery Limited could double its capacity to 100,000 barrels per day

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Refinery Limited (PRL) is looking to buy a second-hand refinery complex to upgrade its operations and increase output to help meet rising demand for petroleum products as the country emerges from a pandemic-driven slump.

The South Asian country currently has five refineries with a total capacity of 417,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to Pakistan's 2020 economic survey, the largest of which stands at 150,000 bpd.

If the purchase goes ahead PRL could double its capacity to 100,000 bpd.

The company this week sought offers to purchase a second-hand refinery complex for relocation to Pakistan, according to an advertisement placed in international media.

It said it was undertaking an upgrade and potential expansion project to produce Euro V specification and high-speed diesel oil. For this purpose, it intends to purchase a pre-owned refinery complex with one or more conversion units, which should have a 50,000 to 100,000 bpd throughput design.

Offers from interested bidders have been invited with a closing date of April 23.

Pakistan's total refining capacity is 19.37 million tons per year, according to the Economic Survey, while the country consumes 19.68 million tons of petroleum products annually.

The government says refinery capacity is not being fully utilized on account of financial as well as technical problems, and is supplying only 11.59 million tons per year, with the rest of the country's needs imported.

The finance ministry, in a report last month, said that import volumes of petroleum crude increased by 13.8 percent in the first eight months of the 2020-21 financial year. Import volumes of petroleum products increased by 27.7 percent in the same period.