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Flogging video sparks massive protests

Nirupama Subramanian

Chief Justice takes suo motu notice of the incident

ISLAMABAD: Human rights activists and women’s groups held countrywide protests against the flogging of a 17-year-old girl in the Taliban-run Swat valley on Saturday after a mobile phone film of the incident sparked national outrage.

In Lahore and Karachi, and in Peshawar too, a large number of people turned out to protest the flogging, describing it as a shame on Pakistan, on Islam and on Pashtuns. A day after it first surfaced on television screens, it was still being shown repeatedly by all television channels.

Apparently taken aback by the revulsion from all corners of the country, the Swat Taliban, who confirmed the flogging on Friday, are now saying the incident seen in the video took place outside Swat. Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan called a press conference where he denounced the video as a conspiracy by “foreign forces” to malign the Taliban and Pakistan. For the first time, he allowed cameras to show his face.

He vowed that the Taliban would hunt down and punish those who had filmed the incident and distributed it “at the behest of some foreign NGOs”.

But Muslim Khan did not backtrack from his assertion that this was the right punishment for the girl. He also said a flogging had taken place in Swat but it was not the one in the video.

All eyes are now on Chief Justice Ifthikar Chaudhary, who took suo motu notice of the incident, summoning top officials in the federal and provincial NWFP government to the court on Monday when a larger bench headed by him and comprising eight judges will begin hearing the case..

He has won praise for acting promptly to enforce the rule of law, and putting the government on the mat for the incident.

His order to the NWFP chief to produce the victim in court on Monday is bound to create an uncomfortable situation for the provincial government.

The Swat Valley is a no-go area for the police, and according to locals, police stations in the district are lying locked up.

For the police chief to confess his helplessness in the court would amount to an official admission that the district is no longer under the control of Pakistan.

On the other hand, Mr. Chaudhary, who has built his reputation on helping the poor and the victimised, is also under pressure after his dramatic March 16 restoration as the Chief Justice, to come up with solutions wherever the government fails.

“We will be in court on Monday monitoring the Chief Justice to see how he deals with this case,” said Tahira Abdullah, a well-known women’s rights activist.

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