These have not been good days for women. Amidst rising reported instances of rape and harassment and police figures indulging in victim-blaming than on accountability for these cases, things just seem to get worse and worse when it comes to making Pakistan a safer place for women. A new development yesterday, related to the Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi case, has made it more difficult for women to come forward.

The case, which originated when singer Meesha Shafi accused entertainer Ali Zafar of harassment in 2018 on Twitter, has taken a new round as the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) cybercrime wing on Monday booked Shafi and eight others for their alleged involvement in a “smear campaign” against Ali Zafar. For posting on social media and allegedly setting up fake accounts to harass Zafar, Ms Shafi and eight bloggers have been booked under section 20 (1) of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, which related to offences against the dignity of a natural person, and Section 109 (Punishment of abetment) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

That Section 20 would be used to prosecute people from expressing their opinions or to clamp down on people bringing allegations of harassment is precisely the fear about PECA when it was being passed in 2016. The debate on how to legally handle cases of harassment is a nuanced issue—oftentimes, like in this case, it becomes a “he said, she said” case. Yet registering cases against those that speak out about harassment is definitely the wrong and extremely harmful way to go about it.

There are already enormous obstacles that prevent and discourage women from reporting cases of harassment and rape. Prosecuting women for speaking out about their experiences sets the wrong precedent and further discourages potential victims from pursuing accountability, especially considering how difficult it is to gather evidence in these cases. Prosecuting unproven accusations should only be considered for crimes which are not difficult to prove.