Organizers of Pakistan’s International Women’s Day rallies have received death threats after a “vicious smear campaign” saw doctored images of the event circulate online.
Thousands took part in marches across the country on Monday calling for women’s rights, but fake images of the events quickly went viral in deeply conservative Pakistan, appearing even on popular television shows.
In one clip, the sound was altered to suggest participants in Karachi were chanting blasphemous slogans against the Prophet Mohammed — an act that carries the death penalty in Pakistan.
Another photo was shared by a politician and shown on television with the false claim that women were waving a French flag — when it was actually the banner of a Pakistani feminist organization.
Anti-France sentiments remain rife in Pakistan after French President Emmanuel Macron defended the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed — a red line for many Muslims.
“This is a way for the conservatives to push us back and the eventual goal here is for the Aurat March to not happen again,” said Moneeza Ahmed, an organizer of the Karachi march, who described the threats as “traumatic.”
Organizers in Karachi were threatened online, while more high-profile figures in Lahore said they had received “serious death threats” via email, telephone and in text messages.
They did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the “deliberate, vicious campaign” amounted to “an incitement to violence.”
The annual rallies calling for women’s rights have received a fierce backlash since they first began in Karachi in 2018, including legal challenges to have them banned.