The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom.
Speaking the truth usually, if not always, comes at a cost in a country like Pakistan. Whether you’re a woman marching for her rights, a journalist voicing his opinions, or a trans activist fighting for her community; if what you say conflicts with the interests of those in power, they will do whatever they can to silence you.
Recently Julie Khan, a trans rights activist, became one of the victims of the power-hungry system, when a fellow transwoman, Lubna, framed Julie and three other transwomen stating that they broke into her house, attacked her and stole all her valuables. This incident took place right after five trans people were arrested and taken under judicial custody after Julie, along with a transwoman named Rosy, had filed a report against them saying that they had attacked Rosy in her home.
In retaliation, the other side filed a cross-report and on August 10th, Julie was taken into police custody under a fabricated case.
Julie, a victim of assault herself, rose to fame in 2020 after her series, The Naked Truth, gained immense popularity.
She spoke for the rights of the transgender community in Pakistan, and highlighted many flawed aspects of society, including mothers in the digital age and elitist culture. She vehemently expressed her opinions, knowing well that she was an unprotected transwoman who could easily be harmed for her words, and did everything in her power to help trans people such as Rosy, who might be hesitant to take a stand for themselves.
According to Julie’s lawyer, Hassan Niazi, the reason behind Julie’s arrest is a lot more complicated than just her spat with a few members of her own community. Niazi states that the system that apparently claims to protect the rights of trans people in Pakistan is the very one that is to blame in this situation.
He also says that NGOs, many members of the trans community, and other powerful people of the country are all involved in forced begging, and selling transgender people from one “guru” to another for their benefit. Most, if not all, parents of transgenders abandon them as children and these gurus step forward to take them in. Although they pose as their caretakers, gurus often subject trans people to horrendous acts of exploitation, financial and otherwise. On many occasions, Julie has risked her life to fight for transgenders and challenge a defective system that includes the guru mafia.
Back in 2016, the brave transwoman had gone to Sialkot when she heard that a local thug was tormenting the trans people there. Even though the culprits were eventually arrested after a video of them surfaced on the internet, Julie still had to bear physical abuse in order to provide her community with the justice that they rightfully deserved.
Although this is just one incident, it is an example of the many sacrifices that Julie has made, and is still making, for the transgender community in Pakistan. After being manhandled by the police on the day of her arrest, Julie was forcefully kept in a male prison for several days that put her at an even higher risk of assault, another injustice that she faced because the world around her is not accepting of who she is, and is willing to put her at stake for it.
However, she soon garnered widespread support from netizens across social media platforms. The hashtag, #JusticeForJulie, became a fast trend on Twitter after the trans-activists’ arrest and people all over Pakistan demanded the immediate release of Julie from Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi.
On August 16th, many of Julie’s supporters gathered at Islamabad Press Club to protest her unlawful arrest. One of the protestors, a student named Ahmad Abdullah, had said, “The role of the police has been humiliating during the arrest. I condemn how the justice system fails trans people again and again despite the fact that Pakistan has some of the most progressive trans laws. I’m proud to stand here as Julie’s friend and a trans activist.”
The public’s concern for Julie’s safety is proof that collective demand can make those in power rethink their choices. After the many efforts of her lawyer and the constant pressure that came from the public, Julie was at last released on bail on August 18th.
However, Julie’s struggle does not end here. Other than her expected trial that has yet to be announced, Julie’s life still remains under threat from those who wish to take away her voice. It is our job as the public to keep supporting Julie in her time of need so that her years of struggle to fight against injustice does not all go in vain.