Reeled In

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The Caravan: July 1, 2016

A rash of film bans portends rising censorship in Pakistan

On the evening of 5 May, I joined about two-dozen people at a small private venue in Karachi, to watch a film we were not supposed to watch. Security was tight. The attendees—mostly journalists, activists and filmmakers—had all been told of the event only a day earlier, and we were asked to show our national identity cards while entering the building, through a rear exit. Before the screening, one of the film’s directors laid down two strict rules: no photographs, no social media.

The film being shown was Among the Believers, a documentary that profiles Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of an extremist network with links across the country. The film shows how the government’s failure to provide basic services for its people enables radical clerics to gain thousands of followers by offering free food, education and healthcare.

On 25 April, ten days before the secret screening, Pakistan’s Central Board of Film Censors, or CBFC, had banned the film. The directors, Mohammed Ali Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi, asked the CBFC to review the ban, but the body rejected their appeal, saying Among the Believers contained dialogue that projected a “negative image of Pakistan in the context of ongoing fighting against extremism and terrorism.”

The Pakistani government has sporadically banned films over the last few years, but until now the targets of such censorship have mostly been Bollywood movies (last year, for example, Neerja and Phantom were banned). But when it comes to local cinema, censors have tended to be more permissive, recommending excisions instead of outright bans. Recently, however, this has changed. Among the Believers is one of three Pakistani films banned over a two-week period this spring. These bans, which targeted content deemed anti-Pakistani, point to a growing censorship of the country’s film industry, and the state’s tightening grip on freedom of expression.

Full story here

Photo: Still from Besieged in Quetta

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Oscar-nominated documentary about “honor killings” exposes filmmaker to witch hunt

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Women in the World: February 24, 2016

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy has been accused of defaming and disgracing Pakistan as a result of her courageous documentary “A Girl in the River”

On a dark night in June 2014, a bruised and bloodied young woman stumbled into a petrol station in Gujranwala, a city in Pakistan’s Punjab province. She had been beaten, shot in the face, dumped in a burlap sack and thrown into a nearby canal. As her attackers fled, the cool water jolted her awake. She struggled out of the sack, and treaded water till she reached the canal’s banks where, grasping at reeds, she pulled herself to dry land. She followed the distant lights of cars and motorbikes until she ended up at the station, begging for help. Eighteen-year-old Saba Qaiser was picked up by rescue services that night and taken to a hospital, where she told doctors her father and uncle tried to kill her for marrying a man they did not approve of.

This was a clear-cut case of ‘honor killing’, a practice that claimed the life of at least one woman in Pakistan every day in 2015 alone — and those are figures gleaned from reported cases only — as she is murdered for bringing ‘dishonor’ to her family.

In her latest documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy met Saba’s father, Maqsood, shortly after he was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of his daughter. Furious that Saba married a man from a lower social class of her own free will, Maqsood claimed, “Whatever we did, we were obliged to do it. She took away our honor.” He describes his daughter’s decision to marry someone her parents did not approve of as “unlawful”.

“I labored and earned lawfully to feed her, this was unlawful of her,” he insisted. “If you put one drop of piss in a gallon of milk, the whole thing gets destroyed. That is what (Saba) has done.”

Unrepentant, Maqsood said: “If I had seen (Saba’s husband), I would have killed him too.”

Full story here

 

Many in Pakistan not surprised men convicted in Malala case were secretly released

The New York Times/ Women in the World: June 9, 2015

The school uniform of Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize laureate 2014. Malala was wearing the uniform on the day she was shot in the head by the Taliban while on the school bus in Swat, Pakistan, on 9 October 2012.   Photo: Lynsey Addario / Reportage by Getty for the Nobel Peace Center Honouring Malala Yousafzai’s own wish, the school uniform she wore when she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in October 2012, becomes part of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate exhibition 2014 – Malala and Kailash at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway.

It had the makings of the perfect firestorm: on Friday, a British newspaper,The Daily Mirror, broke the news that of the 10 men reportedly found guilty by a Pakistani anti-terrorism court of the brutal attack on Malala Yousafzai in 2012, eight had been secretly set free.

The news emerged as the court order from the trial was made public a month after the hearing had concluded, and the Mirror alleged that the men were released as part of a deal, with the greatest efforts made to avoid local or international media picking up on the story.

On April 30, international and Pakistani media extensively covered the news of life sentences handed down to the 10 men, who were swept up in September 2014 by the Pakistani army during the ongoing military offensive Operation Zarb-e-Azb in Pakistan’s restive northern region. On Friday, the world learned that it was only two, not 10, of the alleged attackers who were convicted and imprisoned.

“The eight prisoners were released from jail because officials would have received a message from the courts regarding their acquittal,” DIG Malakand Azad Khan confirmed on Friday. Pakistani authorities have since stated that the eight men remain in custody, only fueling skepticism regarding the veracity of facts emerging in this case. “The eight who were acquitted are still being held in various jails and an internment center,” a police official told the AFP. Per the draconian Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011, applicable in Swat, these men can be held indefinitely by the armed forces.

Even as this story brings together some of Pakistan’s best-loved trigger points – Malala (whom many still believe to be a ‘Western agent’), the illegitimacy of secret military courts, alleged covert deals and a doddering justice system – the response to the Mirror’s story was rather muted. Only one English-language newspaper, Dawn, carried the story on its front page. Dawn subsequently ran a blistering editorial against the legitimacy of the trial, while talk shows and news bulletins were dedicated to the imminent announcement of the federal budget and political leaders remained tightlipped. For many, the news did not merit an appearance on their social media feeds. And since the triumphant announcement of the attackers’ arrests last year, the army’s press information wing has remained silent about the case.

Full story here

Photo of Malala’s school uniform, worn on the day she was attacked: Lynsey Addario/Getty