|Activists demand educational opportunities for women at a rally in Lahore|
Civil society groups this weekend lashed out at Muslims clerics, saying they sought to mislead people by disseminating doctored images of Malala Yousufzai. The 15-year-old child education activist was ambushed and shot in the head last month by Taliban gunmen.
Some Islamist leaders commented on controversial images posted on Facebook, which allegedly depicted an uninjured and healthy Malala in a British hospital. They also questioned the official account of the attack.
This sparked angry responses from several rights groups which came, coincidentally, amid celebrations on Saturday of the United Nations World Malala Day.
Mohammad Tahseen, founding director of the South Asia Partnership Pakistan, said clerics should be ashamed of themselves for issuing such confusing statements.
“Anyone can figure out that these are doctored,” he said, referring to the Facebook images.
Tahseen was among 50 others who gathered at the Lahore Press Club to show their solidarity with the UN and Malala.
Saeeda Deep, founder of the Institute of Peace and Secular Studies, said the country should champion universal education every day.
He said greater effort needs to be made in combating messages of hate from extremist groups in the country.
“[They] are using their resources to convince village and tribal people that Americans are paving the way for an all-out war against the Taliban,” he said. “These enemies of the state are misguiding our society, which trusts religious leaders and rejects any other logic.”
Addressing an Islamic conference last week, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman branded the alleged attack on Malala as a manufactured drama, citing the Facebook images as evidence.
“Malala was not the only one to have faced injustice. There were other daughters of the nation like Aafia Siddiqui, who supported education in the country,” he said, referring to a female US-educated neuroscientist who was arrested in Pakistan in 2008 on suspicion of terrorist activities.
During interrogation on the day after her arrest, she grabbed a rifle and shot at FBI agents. A New York court later convicted her of attempted murder, armed assault and other charges, and sentenced her to 86 years in prison.
Lots of women are killed or injured in US drone strikes,” Rehman added.
Malala, a vocal proponent of female education in Pakistan, was shot in the head while traveling home from school on a bus with a classmate in Swat Valley. She was subsequently airlifted to a hospital in England, where she continues to recover from her injuries.The attack galvanized support for her educational cause in Pakistan and sparked severe criticism of the Taliban and groups sympathetic to them.
President Asif Ali Zardari recently signed a one million-signature petition presented by the UN special envoy on global education to express solidarity with Malala.
He also expressed national support for the young activist in a message released on Malala Day.
“Malala Yousufzai stands tall today as a symbol of female education and defiance against those who wish to impose their obscurantist agenda behind the façade of religion,” Zardari said.
“She stood defiantly against the militants to pursue her education, refused to bow to their threats and faced the bullets instead of giving up.”
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