No, banners or slogans at Aurat March were not blasphemous

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Claim: The organizers and participants associated with the Aurat March promoted blasphemous content.

Fact: Videos and pictures from various Aurat Marches across the country are being doctored and misconstrued to falsely accuse organizers and participants of blasphemy.

French Flag
Sexual Abuse Testimony
Slogans for Freedom

Introduction

Since 2018, the Aurat March is carried out across Pakistan every year on International Working Women’s Day to demand civil and human rights for all women and minorities. Currently, in the aftermath of Aurat March 2021, slogans and banners are being misconstrued as anti-Islam and disrespectful to religious figures.

As a result, the Aurat March is being accused of pursuing a blasphemous agenda on social media. There are widespread calls for the government to pursue action against organizers, while the hashtags #BanAuratMarch and #DharnaAgainstAuratMarch are trending on Twitter.

Tweets under the hashtag #BanAuratMarch and #DharnaAgainstAuratMarch

These sentiments were also expressed by public figures such as journalist Ansar Abbasi, who is an editor at The News and has 1.8 million followers on Twitter. Muhammad Ibrahim Qazi, who has 37.2 followers on Twitter and is Chief of Staff and Director Implementation University of Management and Technology, also shared misleading information about the march.

Tweets by Ansar Abbasi and Muhammad Ibrahim Qazi

Claim: The French flag was raised by organizers at the Aurat Azadi March in Islamabad

Fact: The Women Democratic Front’s flag was raised by organizers at the Aurat Azadi March in Islamabad.

The Aurat Azadi March in Islamabad is organized by a socialist-feminist organization called the Women’s Democratic Front (WDF). Founded in 2018, the WDF aims to build a mass resistance against capitalism, patriarchy, and oppression.

Much like every year, members of the WDF raised their organization’s flag at Aurat Azadi Marches in various cities, including Islamabad. However, on 9 March, Orya Maqbool Jan, a prominent Pakistani journalist, appeared on Neo News and claimed that the French flag was raised at Aurat Azadi March in Islamabad. He went on to say that since France’s government has previously condoned blasphemy against Islam, raising their flag is akin to committing blasphemy. Later, this claim was tweeted by Hans Masroor Badvi, PTI’s Central Deputy Information Secretary who has 70.7k followers on Twitter.

Tweet by Hans Masroor Badvi

Soch Fact Check found these claims to be false. The Women’s Democratic Front issued a clarification on their official Twitter page, comparing their own flag with that of France. WDF’s flag consists of three colors namely, red, white, and purple respectively whereas the French flag consists of the colors blue, white, and red respectively. The WDF also clarified that the red in their flag symbolizes socialist revolution, white stands for peace, and purple for feminism.

A tweet by WDF’s Twitter account said, “We, at WDF, stand against all forms of imperialism and the accusation that we would ever wave the flag of a former colonial power is ridiculous”
Furthermore, members of WDF raise their flag at various demonstrations throughout the year. These include protests concerning the issues of students, working-class folk, and religious and ethnic minorities.

Claim: Text written on a banner at Aurat March in Lahore was blasphemous.

Fact: The text in question was the testimony of an individual’s experience as a child at the hands of a 50-year-old religious scholar.

Text of the banner being misconstrued on social media

Soch Fact Check found this to be false. Aurat March Lahore released a statement on Twitter explaining that the banner was not meant to disrespect Islam or religious figures in any way, but was rather the testimony of a person who was victim to sexual abuse as a 9-year-old at the hands of a 50-year-old male qari (religious scholar).

The statement went on to state that, “It is sad to see that the detractors will go as far as to undermine the abuse and rape of children in order to weaken the movement for women’s and children’s rights.”

Soch Fact Check reached out to the organizers of Aurat March Lahore for further comment. They explained that every year they have a ‘Me Too blanket’ at their public meetings, on which attendees can write testimonies about experiences of sexual assault. The picture being circulated on social media, as confirmed by the above statement, is of one such testimony.

“People in any position of power – whether it is political or economic or whether they derive their power from a religious institution – abuse it against weaker segments of society and children are one such segment” stated the organizers. “The text was not meant to hurt anyone’s sentiments, but was actually calling for the accountability of individuals who use religion to abuse their power, to ensure that the name and ideology of the religion are not harmed due to the actions of an individual.”

Claim: Slogans against Islam and religious figures were raised at Aurat March in Karachi.

Fact: Slogans demanding freedom were raised at the Aurat March. These included names of politicians and also prominent journalists who had previously spoken out against the Aurat March.

A video, in which participants were seen raising slogans of freedom was doctored with incorrect subtitles and widely circulated on social media. The subtitles make it appear that the slogans are anti-Islam and disrespectful towards religious figures. While some social media users questioned the authenticity of the video, many accused organizers of blasphemy on its basis.

The tweet was also shared by individuals with significant social media followers like Hans Masroor Badvi (70.7k followers), Huzaifa Rafiq (14.4k followers), General Hamid Gul’s son, Mohammad Abdullah Gul (32.9k followers), and Imran Raja (13.6k followers).

Tweets by Imran Raja, Hans Masroor Badvi, and Huzaifa Rafiq

Soch Fact Check found this to be misleading. While present at Aurat March Karachi, members of Team Soch heard the slogans being addressed to Prime Minister Imran Khan, Governor of Sindh Imran Ismail, Mullahs (religious clerics who abuse their authority), politicians Fazl-ur-Rehman, Ansar Abbasi, and journalist Orya Maqbool.

Aurat March released a tweet listing the slogans that were raised at the march.

Aurat March Karachi also released a video of attendees raising slogans at the march with correct subtitles.

Orya Maqbool himself confirmed, during a television interview, that he was being addressed in the slogans raised during the march.

Source: Neo News YouTube Channel

Summary: Videos and pictures from Aurat Marches across Pakistan were circulated on social media as evidence that participants and organizers had committed blasphemy against Islam. Soch Fact Check found that these images were misinterpreted, while the video in question was doctored, to falsely frame the content as anti-Islam.

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