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Pakistan court gives green light to women's march - with conditions

LAHORE (Reuters) - A Pakistani court on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to the country’s largest women’s rights event but told organisers to ensure participants adhere to “decency and moral values”.

FILE PHOTO: A woman carries a sign and chants slogans during a rally to mark International Women's Day in Lahore, Pakistan March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/File Photo

The country-wide event, known as Aurat March, using the Urdu word for women, has been attended by tens of thousands over the last two years to mark International Women’s Day on March 8.

A court in Lahore was petitioned last month to place restrictions on the organisers and participants of the march, whom the complainant said had an agenda to “spread anarchy, vulgarity, blasphemy and hatred” against Islam.

The court told organisers to consult local officials to finalise arrangements for the event, which campaigns for reclaiming space for women as well as the LGBT community.

Global watchdogs have expressed concern in recent years over what they see as a growing clampdown on rights campaigns in Pakistan.

“The court remarked that the participants should not ignore decency and moral values while carrying placards and chanting slogans,” the movement’s lawyer Saqib Jilani told Reuters, adding that organisers had been ordered to devise a code of conduct but already had one.

Local police, told to ensure security for the march, submitted a report to the court stating the event faced a threat from radical groups including Pakistani Taliban militants.

The police told the court they would provide security but it was essential for organisers to prohibit participants from engaging in “controversial acts”.

There was uproar in conservative circles over slogans at last year’s event. Some said: “My body, my choice!” “My body is not your battleground!” and “Stop being menstrual phobic!”

Following last year’s event, organisers said they faced a backlash including murder and rape threats.

Ahead of this year’s event, volunteers and organisers in Islamabad and Lahore say posters and murals are being vandalised.

Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne