SC admits Meesha’s appeal against LHC dismissal of harassment claim

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday accepted for preliminary hearing a request from singer Meesha Shafi against a Lahore High Court (LHC) order in her sexual harassment claim against singer-turned-actor Ali Zafar.

In October 2019, the high court turned down Shafi’s petition challenging the Punjab ombudsperson (Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace) and the governor’s decision to dismiss her claim against Zafar on “technical grounds”.

The ombudsperson’s office had maintained since she and Zafar “did not have an employer-employee relationship”, the case could not be heard in that forum under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010.

Shafi had initially filed a complaint accusing Zafar of harassment with the provincial ombudsperson before being rejected and appealing against the decision before the Punjab governor, whom her legal team considered the competent authority to review any decisions made by the ombudsperson.

However, the governor upheld the original decision in July 2018, dismissing her request on “technical grounds”.

During Monday’s hearing, the singer was granted leave, meaning the court will be deliberate if her claim and nature of her association with Zafar at the time come under the workplace harassment law.

The plaintiff while recalling the high court’s take on the nature of the relationship between Shafi and Zafar questioned that “[since] there are also instances of students [enrolled] at educational institutions being harassed and they [students] are not employed by the institutions, would it [any such complaint] not merit a trial?”

The counsel insisted that the LHC and the provincial ombudsmen did not “properly review the law”.

After hearing the arguments, the court remarked that the points raised by the petitioner must be reviewed, and clubbed the case with the suo motu notice taken to define sexual harassment, also pending in the court.

Issuing notices to respondents, Zafar and Punjab Advocate General Ahmad Awais, the court adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period.

In December, a Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) inquiry found Shafi and eight others “guilty” of running a vilification campaign on social media against Zafar and asked the trial court to start its proceedings against them.

The agency’s Lahore cybercrime wing submitted an interim challan before the court of a special judge central in the FIR registered on the complaint filed against the accused by Zafar.

In the interim challan, the FIA said: “During the course of investigation so far Meera Shafi alias Meesha Shafi, Iffat Omar, Maham Javaid, Leena Ghani, Haseemus Zaman, Fariha Ayub, Syed Faizan Raza, Humna Raza and Ali Gul Pir have been found guilty in this case as per available oral and documentary evidences.”

“However, the complainant recorded his statement in favour of Hamna Raza to the extent of accepting her apology, thus she is not required in the investigation furthermore.”

The FIA said Shafi posted defamatory and false allegations of sexual harassment against Zafar on April 19, 2018, but she failed to produce any witnesses before it in favour of her allegations.

The other suspects also failed to provide evidence in favour of the direct allegations posted by them on social media.

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