Many netizens expressed their outrage after news of the arrest of a young man named Zulfi spread online. He had earlier had an FIR registered against him for obscenity for a photoshoot he did in front of a portrait of Quaid-e-Azam on the Islamabad Expressway. However, he has not actually been arrested.
Along with the portrait, the hillock also bears the famous quotes of the father of the nation: “Unity, Faith and Discipline” written in metallic letters both in English and Urdu. After pictures of his photoshoot went viral, a case was registered against Zulfi under Section 294 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which relates to obscenity.
Islamabad Additional SP of Operations, Farhat Kazmi, told Dawn that Zulfi has not been arrested from Lahore, as is being reported online. He said Zulfi obtained bail from a Lahore court, which told him to cooperate with the investigation. The young man arrived at a police station in Islamabad to offer his assistance in the case and the police took a picture with him for their records. The picture was shared and people then began claiming that Zulfi had been arrested.
As the fake news circulated online, things got heated. Celebrities such as Fatima Bhutto and Meesha Shafi also expressed their outrage at the turn of events.
"Shame on the police, arresting this young man for what? For a photo where he dressed up? No one was hurt. He harmed no one. On Aug 14, 400 men attacked a woman and filmed themselves terrorising her. They filmed themselves because they knew it’s no crime to attack a girl," Bhutto wrote on Twitter.
"Do you think the Quaid would have had a problem with these pictures?" Shafi rhetorically questioned her followers.
Other netizens also did not hold themselves back in criticising the state. "What exactly guilty is Zulfi guilty of?" a user angrily asked on Twitter. "Freedom of expression? This is so callous and a blatant disregard of due process rights."
Another user highlighted Zulfi's devotion and service to Pakistan on Twitter. "Zulfi always advocated for a more tolerant and free Pakistan," they wrote. "[Zulfi was] so devoted to Pakistan, [he] literally came back from studying abroad [and] was part of Teach for Pakistan. Even [Zulfi's song] lyrics were love letters to Pakistan, and this is how Pakistan treats them?"
Some users pointed out how an average citizen's right to express themselves freely has been heavily curtailed in Pakistan over the years. "Our fundamental right to freedom of expression in getting narrower by the day Pakistan," a user wrote on twitter. "Progress in our democracy can only be achieved by embracing pluralism even when people may offend our sentiments."
Another user highlighted how artists are especially inhibited from expressing themselves freely without fear. "I as an artist am not free until every artist is free," they tweeted.
Many users were quick to point out how the state apparently prioritises reprimanding young citizens for exercising their freedom of expression over punishing sexual offenders. "You know the state has failed when it starts imprisoning kids who wear different kind of clothes while rapists are gifted bails," a user wrote on Twitter.
"You know you're in Pakistan when majority of rapists and oppressors go free but a harmless individual engaging in a photoshoot gets arrested in such a brief time," read another tweet.
"Zulfi’s case really settles the fact that the only kind of ‘policing’ this state and government are interested in is moral policing," a user wrote. "Actual crimes like harassment, rape and murder are subject to whether the story goes viral enough to force action."
One user pointed out how many of the 400 men who assaulted a woman at Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore are still at large while the state poured in resources to catch one young citizen for a mere photoshoot.
Another valid point was brought forward on Twitter. "Zulfi was not arrested per se but taken in for questioning and has gotten interim bail for now. What does he need to be on bail for? He's not a criminal! [The #freezulfi hashtag] still makes sense because we all need to fight for own individual and collective freedom, clearly!" they wrote.
While news of Zulfi's arrest may have been exaggerated, people are still discussing and questioning the state and society's attitudes towards individuals exercising their right to express themselves.