Solis Festival happened in Islamabad this weekend but what was meant to be a night of fun featuring international DJs turned into a terrifying experience for many.
Only two out of the five performers got to play their set. The concert, held at the PNCA, which has a capacity of approximately 1000 people, was overrun by gatecrashers and people who were allegedly sold fake tickets; the rowdy crowd was out of control as they thrashed the stage, destroying equipment and causing the VIP lounge to collapse resulting in numerous injuries.
Few attendees, including both women and men, reported being molested and sexually assaulted amidst the chaos that ensued.
After uproar on social media on the matter, Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat tweeted about an inquiry that was underway and a FIR being registered. He added that company behind the festival had been blacklisted.
'Attacked by scores of men'
An Instagram user and festival attendee, Shanza, wrote about her experience. She said she lost consciousness when the VIP enclosure fell and when she regained consciousness, a guy was trying to snatch her bag. She said he was almost strangling her with the strap that was now around her neck. She said when she looked at her sister, whose leg was stuck under a grill, a guy was on top of her.
"We’re panicking and literally no one's helping because in this moment, these filthy, frustrated a**holes get a chance and start touching, groping and harassing us, it took me a moment to realise what they’re doing because I was in absolute hysteria. My body was aching because of the injuries. I was almost numb and Solis Festival continued and the DJs didn’t even stop the music."
She further narrated: "My little brother picked us all up with his forehead bleeding and then we rushed straight out. What we see is literally a group of men following a girl who’s walking her way in, a guy slapping a girl who accused him of harassing and a whole lotta other sh*t. We couldn’t walk. I don't know how we made it to the car but not a single person was there to help. We went straight to the hospital, my leg tissues and muscles are torn, my best friend's leg was fractured, my sister’s hands were bleeding and her thighs bruised."
Shanza's sister also spoke about the night on her social media.
"The lounge collapsing and us getting injured is one thing but the harassment we faced in that chaos was truly horrifying. I can't even gather enough strength and feel disgusted writing about the harassment we faced. How are you going to pay us back for last night, @solisfestival?" she wrote.
Another festival attendee, Mahnoor Baloch, said she witnessed mass harassment and recounted an incident where she said a girl was slapped by a guy who had touched her inappropriately.
"A woman was groped in front of me and she turned around and told the guy off who in turn slapped her. I can't even tell you what was happening with women in front of me there," she said in an Instagram video.
A similar account was shared on Facebook by a user named Alina Ahsan.
"When we got there, it was already chaotic to begin with a massive crowd but soon afterwards, people with fake tickets started entering, overflowing the venue and in the chaos of too many people, people just started stampeding over the entrance grills and broke it and everyone who wanted could get inside."
"Since I had a VIP ticket, I was meant to stand up on a higher stage and the rest of the crowd just on the ground but when I was going up to the VIP area with my friends, this guy got right in my face with no space between us and told me: "idher se dafa ho ja warna roti rahay gi poori zindagi ke mere sath kya kia in larkon ne." I was honestly trembling. I stumbled off the stairs and just stood in the crowd (even though I paid more for VIP ticket) but I was too shaken up to do something about it."
She went on to say that when the concert begun, her mind drifted from that situation a bit but it wasn't long before she witnessed the VIP platform falling due to overcrowding.
"I was standing directly under it and tried to run for it but my leg got stuck underneath the stage and I just blacked out. When I regained consciousness, my bag was stolen, a guy had "fallen" on top of me and was just casually laying there, moving his hands all over my body "trying" to get up. I yelled at him and he still didn't stop instead yelled back "baji, main kaise uthoon?".
"I pushed him and kneed him in his balls which made him mad and he slapped me across my face and got up laughing down at me. Then he spat on me and walked away calling me a cuss word. I felt disgusting. I tried to get up but I couldn't, there were too many people just running here and there. I couldn't see my friends anywhere."
"Five minutes later, I found my friends, one of them was bleeding from her entire head to her forehead, she ended up getting a concussion and spending the night at the hospital. One severely injured her leg because people ran all over it. One of my friend got groped and cornered by three guys whilst she was looking for us; even my guy friends got harassed and got his phone stolen. I have bruises all over my body, my friends are in the hospital, some are traumatised."
She also said that while leaving, she "witnessed a guy slapping a girl with full force and some guys running after a girl and grabbing her ass and pulling her off-shoulder shirt down. I wish I could've done something to help but I couldn't."
"I'm so mad at this, I paid 10,000+ to get molested? Harassed? Injured? Scarred for life? And no one is doing anything about it? And it's not just me. Google it, Twitter it."
Talking to Images, Alina shared that men were also being harassed.
"Her entire head was soaked in blood, she wasn't talking; we didn't know at the time she was concussed. Her state was really bad, people had trampled all over her. My friend had to be admitted to the hospital and got discharged at 4 pm the next day. I tried calling 15 but there were no signals at the venue. When we finally found our guy friend whose car we had come in, he said there were guys trying to touch him as well and even his phone was stolen."
A man who wished to remain anonymous revealed to us that he was groped on his way out from the festival.
Images' reporter, Irfan Ul Haq, who was present at the event, said the crowd was truly unhinged.
"Everyone was shoving and pushing to make their way inside. I had a pass in my hand but no one checked it. There was no space to move around; people were getting into fights and harassing women openly. When some girls started shouting “save us”, management made an announcement telling people to stop or they’re going to shut off the music," he shared.
"They called the police but they couldn’t do much; by now, a mob had gotten onto the stage and had started breaking things. Even when we finally made our way out through the mayhem, there was a mob waiting outside with sticks, I'm not sure how we escaped. It was so mismanaged, barely any bouncers and security."
Statement from Solis
Images reached out to the organisers for comment on reports of harassment.
Syed Shabbar from Solis, "We had designed our space to comfortably support 2500 – 2800 people but made sure that we actually didn’t sell more than 2000 tickets to be on the safe side. All our arrangements were to accommodate this crowd; armed security personnel, medical personnel in uniform, bomb sweep, and our set up."
"As we are still investigating, we've discovered thousands of fake tickets were used and have these as proof. We know they are fake because we had three security layers on our tickets: UV stamp, embossing, and scanning . Thousands of people with these tickets, who probably thought they were legitimate, forced their way into the event between 8-9PM and here we were dealing with a crowd of 10,000+ at an event that catered to a fraction of this. Before all of this happened, everything was running smoothly as it has in our past events."
According to them, "prior to the stage collapsing, our RJs and DJs made the announcement right times for VIP attendees to leave the platform. At that stage, the unsolicited people who had barged in had climbed on the platform and we knew that it couldn’t take the weight and very unfortunately, the inevitable happened."
"Our medical personnel was available right away to assist those injured.However it is possible that in the chaos, some attendees may have tried to leave the venue right away and didn’t have the opportunity to be treated on the spot. On the night, we assisted 12–15 people that came to us with bruises and scratches but we didn’t have any serious inquiry for our ambulance support though we also had ambulances on standby."
"We chose our venue in the Red Zone for this reason: to be extra secure. It comes down to sheer volume of people. We had prepared our security for 3000 people as security is always of utmost priority. Our security did whatever they could in their power to stop people from jumping in, it was just too many people. Four of our security got trampled in the mob."
"I’m confident everyone can confirm that the event was smooth sailing till the gate crash happened at 8.30PM which led to complete anarchy with our stage being trashed, VIP being overcrowded and very very unfortunately is when the harassment cases happened," they added.
Previously, the Solis management issued two statements via their Instagram account.
"We had to make the difficult decision to stop the event due to hundreds of individuals who fought their way through with fake tickets. This spoiled the night for everyone else that purchased authorized tickets. As always, security and safety is at the utmost priority for our festival attendees, vendors, sponsors and artists. We want all our fans to feel safe and happy at every show, and because of the actions of these individuals we weren’t able to do so.
They ended the note, thanking fans who purchased real tickets and sharing that they'll be issuing another statement at a later time.
In their second post, the company lauded itself for putting on three other successful events prior to the one in Islamabad and reiterated that they had made arrangements accordingly and it was people who stormed the place with free tickets that resulted in pandemonium.
"Despite all the challenges of putting together such an experience in Pakistan (the things you don’t see behind the scenes like finding the right speakers, pyro, the security gates that need to be built from scratch, to convincing our artists that Pakistan is indeed safe and beautiful), we made it happen. Not once, not even 3 times in 2019, but for the 4th time yesterday in Islamabad till the incident hours after doors opened. We chose the venue and our security based on the number of tickets sold and made arrangements based on this," they wrote.
"We warned against fake tickets on numerous occasions. However, we underestimated the sheer volume of thousands of “fake tickets” that were being sold illegally. These people were denied entry, but broke our barricades and forced themselves in, climbing on VIP platforms which couldn’t take the weight and destroyed our stage putting everyone’s safety at risk. To those that believed in us and came to genuinely enjoy the show, we are deeply sorry that this experience was ruined by others. We know that you came far and wide and we know how much you were looking forward to this event as we were too."
They added that they had to shut down the event as they could not put the safety and security of "true fans" at risk.
"What some of you didn’t see was the further damage these individuals caused after we shut down the event. Crores Of damage have set us back even further. While we will hold on Solis indefinitely in Islamabad, we will NOT let this define us. We will LEARN and PERSEVERE and keep giving Pakistan an experience they haven’t had before, much like we have done in the past. We will NOT let the actions of a few decide for the rest of us. We will be back," they concluded.
Incidents of harassment at concerts and musical events in Pakistan have been called out before. In 2017, a woman was harassed at an Atif Aslam concert in Karachi. After spotting the harassment, the singer stopped his show to make sure she was safe. This is the second time Solis Festival has come under fire for not creating a safe space; a young woman who attended last year's edition at Lahore's Oasis Golf & Aqua Resort had also alleged that she was sexually assaulted at the event.
This is a developing story.