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Pakistan’s Media Authority Reminds Licensees to Refrain from Promoting Valentine’s Day

WASHINGTON – Pakistan has again banned Valentine’s Day events and media coverage of them, after a court ruled the holiday un-Islamic for a second consecutive year.

The judgment prohibited any advertising or the sale of merchandise associated with the day.

In order to comply with the court ruling, Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) last week sent out instructions to its TV and radio licensees to remind them of the ban.

“Respondents are directed to ensure that nothing about the celebrations of Valentine’s Day and its promotion is spread on the Electronic and Print media,” PEMRA’s directive stated.  “No event shall be held on an official level and at any public place.  PEMRA is directed to ensure that all the TV channels shall stop the promotion of Valentine’s Day forthwith.”

On Feb. 13, 2017, the Islamabad High Court issued a judgment on a petition claiming Valentine’s Day was spreading “immorality, nudity and indecency” in the society.

The court prohibited Valentine’s Day celebrations in public places and government offices in Islamabad, and further instructed PEMRA to “ensure that nothing about the celebration of Valentine’s Day and its promotion is spread.”

PEMRA’s reminder to media outlets has renewed debate about the romantic celebration among different segments of society.  Some view the day as an opportunity to express love, while others question its validity in relevance to Islamic, societal and cultural norms.

Saleema Hashmi, a Lahore-based artist and renowned educator, expressed her frustration with a system that focuses on “irrelevant issues,” rather than making decisions on issues that really impact society and the country.

“Don’t our courts have better things to do instead of passing rulings on celebrating a mere romantic day?” she asked.  “I do not understand how celebrating or denouncing Valentine’s Day can impact our religion, traditions, social or cultural norms.”

She added, “If we do not agree that girls and boys can enjoy their right of expressing love, then it is our issue.  We need to revisit our thinking patterns and accept the reality.”

Valentine’s Day has gained popularity in recent years in Pakistan, where Pakistani youths use the symbolic day to exchange cards, chocolates and gifts with their loved ones.

But public displays of affection and love is not allowed in the largely conservative society that considers such acts violations of Islam and Pakistani culture.

Aniq Ahmad, a prominent TV host who conducts a religious show on Dunya TV, believes the day holds no significance for Pakistan on moral, social and religious grounds.

“I agree with the court ruling that was passed last year, Ahmad told VOA.  “Our values were being compromised.  Our cultural norms and religious values were being affected.  Celebrating the day of love is an insult to our religion.  We need to teach our youth the morals and cultural norms in the light of Islam and the Quran,” he said.

The ruling has impacted many businesses.  Last year, flower vendors and shops selling Valentine’s Day-related merchandise experienced a huge drop in sales after the ban was imposed.

The symbolic day of  love has been openly condemned by religious groups and political parties such as Jamaat-e-Islami.  In 2016, Valentine’s Day celebrations were prohibited by local authorities in Kohat, a city in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.  Also that year, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain warned citizens to refrain from celebrating, as Valentine’s Day was “not a part of Muslim tradition, but of the West.”

This story was originally posted on VOA News (Extremism Watch Desk).

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