After a long lull in the #MeToo movement in Pakistan, a few brave women have stepped forward on social media to name and shame men they say have harassed and abused them and demand an end to a culture of sexual exploitation and harassment.
TV host Rabia Anum tweeted on October 9 that numerous young women have gotten in touch with her to talk about being harassed by a "known social media guy and a comedian".
Several people concluded that her tweet alluded to stand-up comic Junaid Akram:
Others have shared with Images, on condition on anonymity, stories alleging that Akram behaved inappropriately with them:
Another woman shared, "I was 16 and had just finished my O levels. I followed Junaid Akram on social media and would occasionally comment on his posts. Once he messaged me to say that I shouldn't comment on his posts that may carry dual meaning as he had some creepy uncles added. I was like 'okay' and would then avoid commenting. Another time he asked for my WhatsApp number. I gave it to him. We talked once or twice on WhatsApp. The conversation consists of polite, casual remarks. Once on a Friday, he remarked about Jummah prayers. And then suddenly out of nowhere, he said, 'I wanna see you' to which I replied 'Yes sure, whenever you are in country' because he was residing out of country at that time. He replied, 'No, I wanna see you now, if you know what I mean.' I didn't know what to reply, so I ended up not replying to his comment and blocked him later."
Akram has denied all claims of sexual harassment:
In a separate conversation with Images, he said, "I would like to state that all allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct are false. I am a social activist who interacts with all types of people, however, my conduct in such dealings has always been courteous, respectful, and consensual. It is unfortunate that this type of false information is being circulated and propagated at the expense of my reputation and my name.
"I have never blackmailed or coerced anyone to send their pictures, or so as to have an online relationship with me. Any relationship between me and a third party was wholly consensual. Pertaining to how serious these allegations are, I have already met my legal team, and the wheels have already been set in motion to bring to book those who are trying to hurt me and people associated with me."
Following his denial, another woman has also come forward to share her account of how Akram made her feel uncomfortable on a Turkey tour where the comedian was supposed to be the headliner.
“At the end of the first day, he messaged me saying the group is going to a nearby tourist attraction and if I’d like to join. However, when I got to the lobby, it was just him and one other woman. Our tour guide came to the lobby but Junaid took him to the side and he went back to his room after their conversation. After we got back to our hotel, we went to eat food in his room and the other girl and I left together. Once I got back to my room, he texted me saying if I wasn’t sleepy, I could come up by myself. I declined.”
“When I asked the guide the next morning why he didn’t join, he informed me that Junaid had told him we’re his friends and we’d prefer going by ourselves. This was obviously not true; my only interaction with Junaid before this was through Facebook and that too our conversation was just about the logistics of the trip.”
She said Junaid also forcefully grabbed her hand while she was sitting on the bus the next day, which she told him off for instantly and was why she ignored him for the rest of the trip entirely. She also told the travel agency rep soon after it happened, only to find out that another woman entirely had already complained about his inappropriate behaviour.
“I was so sad about it, I didn’t even tell my family thinking they’d make fun of me for actually being a fan,” she added.
Faisal Edhi, son of world-famous philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi and chairman of the Edhi Foundation, has also been accused of sexual harassment by former journalist Urooj Zia.
In a series of tweets, Urooj shared that she met Faisal Edhi to talk about fundraising for a communist party and he began to harass her after that first meeting, which she described as "civil".
"He offered to drop me [back to work, which was nearby]. I said, sure. Here was a guy who was much older than me, had behaved well, I didn’t see a reason to refuse. He also asked for my number 'for further discussion,' and I gave it to him.
"We got to the office building, I thanked him, and started to get off. He held out his hand. I shook it politely, at which point, he grabbed my hand tightly and tried to kind of pull me back into the van. I was already halfway out, and didn’t realise what he was doing. When he pulled even harder, I suddenly 'came to,' sort of, angrily took my arm back, and walked off."
Urooj shares that her first reaction was to gaslight herself: "[I] told myself that maybe what I thought had happened hadn’t happened, and maybe I was “misreading” the whole thing. Maybe I was overreacting, maybe he was making sure that I got out safely. After all, he was Faisal Edhi, how could I even think that he would misbehave in this manner. So I put the whole thing away, mentally berating myself for thinking such horrible things about 'such a selfless, noble person'."
She shared that after the encounter in his car, Faisal began sending her "random messages" in the middle of the night. She added that Faisal would often try to initiate conversations over text messages, offered to send her credit to reply to those messages and would try to establish friendly terms with her. He also suggested that her party work would be affected if she didn't communicate with him when he wanted.
Urooj said that she was convinced that his behaviour constituted harassment when he called her from London and said he called "all the way from there because you’re a special girl, Urooj."
"He said that party funding and assistance would be withdrawn if I didn’t want to be 'friends' with him. I hung up, retched violently, and went to the restroom and threw up," writes Urooj, adding that "This was a married man. With kids. Much older than me. This was Abdul Sattar Edhi’s son... I sat there shaking for over an hour. He kept blowing up my phone all night until I switched it off."
Urooj also talked about why she didn't come forward before: "For years and years, I blamed myself for 'maybe doing something, which had led to this.' This garbage conditioning runs deep. Until the day I realised that I had done nothing wrong; he had. Still, I kept it to myself because of who he was. "Who would believe me," I thought. Folks will pile on me because he is "Edhi saheb's son... No more."
Images has reached out to Faisal Edhi for comment and is awaiting a response. He has, however, denied the allegations to other local publications, saying “I do not even know this lady and I have no idea why she is levelling allegations against me.”
In recent days the #MeToo movement has picked up across the border in India, leading to a series of high-profile accusations. In journalism, figures such as MJ Akbar have been accused of harassment; in the entertainment world directors like Subhash Kapoor have been accused of attempted rape. In comedy circles AIB co-founders made to step down from comedy collective amid #MeToo allegations.
This is a developing story. If you have been affected by sexual harassment, please email the Images editorial team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your identity will be protected.