Pakistani censors have banned a TV drama over scenes reminiscent of a notorious gang rape case, saying the series would “tarnish” the nation’s image by depicting it as an “unsafe place for women”.
Regulators said the show Hadsa would be pulled from airwaves due to parallels to the real-life case of a French-Pakistani mother raped in front of her small children after her car ran out of fuel near the eastern city of Lahore.
“Portrayal of such (a) heinous act will not only trigger the trauma of that unfortunate victim but would also tarnish (the) country’s image,” said the order from the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).
Sexual violence is endemic in deeply patriarchal Pakistan, where women are often treated as second-class citizens and the rape conviction rate is reported to be as low as 0.3 per cent.
The 2020 Lahore motorway rape case sparked nationwide protests after local police chided the victim for travelling at night without a male escort.
Then-police chief Umar Sheikh had repeatedly berated the woman – a resident of France – saying she probably “mistook that Pakistani society is just as safe” as her home country.
But PEMRA suggested that Hadsa, which began airing recently, would cause overseas viewers to wrongly “perceive Pakistan as (an) unsafe place for women”, adding that it did not portray a “true picture of Pakistani society”.
Lawyer Muhammad Ahmad Pansota told AFP that he had lodged a complaint against the show with PEMRA on behalf of the rape victim.
“She said to me actually that whenever she watches an episode, or how people react when they watch it, she has to go through the entire trauma again,” he said. “She’s not very comfortable with that.”
Episodes four and five of Hadsa show a woman and her son being kidnapped and assaulted by a gang when their car breaks down, later revealing the character was raped.
Before the series was censored, actress Hadiqa Kiani, who plays the woman, said it was not based on real-life events.
“Unfortunately, the horrific act of rape and violence happens far too often in our society,” she wrote on the social media site X. “Hadsa is not based on any one person’s story, it is based off of a sickly common part of our reality.”
In the wake of the Lahore incident, backlash over victim-blaming and abysmal conviction rates spurred legal reforms, including the establishment of special courts and chemical castration of serial rapists.
Two men were sentenced to death in 2021 for participating in the rape, but have yet to be executed.
Pakistan regularly censors media it deems offensive to the nation’s conservative Islamic values.
Earlier this year, the website Wikipedia was blocked for hosting “blasphemous content”, while the Barbie movie and the critically acclaimed transgender romance film Joyland also fell foul of censors.