No love in Pakistan for Valentine’s Day broadcasts
Complying with court order, media regulator announces ban on any television or radio programming related to celebration.
Pakistan’s media regulator has banned television channels and radio stations from broadcasting programming related to Valentine’s Day, according to a statement, in compliance with a court order.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) announced the ban on Wednesday, in compliance with an order from the Islamabad High Court issued last year.
Valentine’s Day, named after a Christian saint who died for love, is often marked across Muslim-majority Pakistan, with retailers offering themed sales, restaurants advertising special deals for couples and florists registering booming sales.
Petitioner Abdul Waheed had filed a case in early 2017 contending that the celebration of Valentine’s Day was spreading “immorality, nudity and indecency” in Pakistan.
On February 13, a day before last year’s Valentine’s Day, Judge Shaukat Siddiqui issued a binding notice ordering a complete ban on any broadcast programming related to Valentine’s Day, as well as other restrictions.
“No event shall be held at official level and at any public place,” the court ordered at the time.
A final verdict is yet to be issued in the case, which has been ongoing for more than a year.
The 2017 case came after Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain raised a furore a year earlier, declaring the event a Western cultural import that threatens Pakistani values.
“Valentine’s Day has no connection with our culture and it should be avoided,” Hussain said at the time.
In the past, civic authorities have shrugged off imposition of the ban, saying they cannot shut down every business that advertises promotions in relation to the event.
Commercial holidays and events such as Valentine’s Day are increasingly becoming sites for cultural contestation in Pakistan.
Last year, online retailers offering ‘Black Friday’ sales in November – in line with a tradition mainly followed in the United States after the Thanksgiving holiday – faced social media backlash, with users accusing them of denigrating the Muslim day of weekly congregational prayers.
The move saw many businesses scramble to rebrand their sales, with some declaring they were holding ‘White Friday’ or ‘Green Friday’ sales, using colours considered more culturally ‘Islamic’.
The contestation over perceived Western influence has also sometimes led to violent protests and attacks.
In 2013, prominent social activist Sabeen Mahmud held a “Pyaar ho jaane do” (‘Let love happen’) protest in the southern port city of Karachi, countering calls for a ban on the celebration.
Mahmud received several death threats for her defence of the day. In April 2015, she was shot dead by assailants on a motorcycle, minutes after hosting a controversial talk on ethnic Baloch rights.
In an interview from jail, Saad Aziz, who has been convicted for killing her, cited her activism around Valentine’s Day as one of the reasons she was targeted.
“There wasn’t one particular reason to target her: she was generally promoting liberal, secular values,” he told the Pakistani Herald magazine.
“There were those campaigns of hers, the demonstration outside Lal Masjid [in Islamabad], Pyaar ho jaane do (let there be love) on Valentine’s Day and so on.”
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s Web Correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets at @AsadHashim.