Event organisers say the banner shows a message written by a victim of child sexual abuse

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A photo has been shared multiple times in Facebook and Twitter posts that claim it shows a banner blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed at a recent International Women’s Day march in Pakistan. The claim is false: while the banner was displayed at a women’s march in the Pakistani city of Lahore, event organisers said the message was written by a rape victim sharing her story and does not refer to the Prophet Mohammed.

The photo was posted here on Facebook on March 9, 2021.

The image shows a red banner with Urdu-language text that reads: "I was 9 years old and he was 50. I was silenced and his voice is still heard in mosques till this day”.

The Facebook post’s caption claims that the banner was intended as a criticism of the Prophet Mohammed and one of his wives, Hazrat Ayesha.

"For the convenience of those who do not understand, let me explain that this is a flag from the women's march in which the Holy Prophet (PBUH) [peace be upon him] and Hazrat Ayesha (RA) [may Allah be pleased with her] have been criticized,” the Urdu caption says.

"Meaning, the Holy Prophet was 50 years old and Ayesha was nine when she was forcibly married. To this day, the name of the Holy Prophet resonates in mosques. Their whining is growing every year.”

The lengthy post urges Muslims to “rise up in the name of God” and “hold this criticism to account”.

Women’s marches, or “Aurat Marches” were held around Pakistan to mark International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021.

The events have sparked backlash in socially conservative Pakistan.

Screenshot of the post making the false claim. Taken on March 12, 2021.

Posts making the same allegation have been shared on Facebook here, here, here, here, here and here; and on Twitter here, here, here, here and here.

However, the claim is false.

According to the official Aurat [Women] March Lahore, the story shared in the banner is “by a woman in Lahore who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of a 50-year-old qari sahib [religious teacher] when she was 9 years old”.

March organisers had asked women to share their experiences of sexual violence and abuse as part of a “#MeToo blanket”, which they shared photos of in a Twitter thread.

The Human Rights Council of Pakistan also spoke out against the false claims.

“Once again, allegations of blasphemy have been weaponised, this time against women who bravely drew attention to the harassment & sexual assault they had experienced,” it said in a tweet.

AFP was unable to identify the woman who made the banner.

Contacted by AFP, feminist activist and professor of gender studies at the Lahore University of Management Studies Nida Kirmani, who is in contact with the march organisers, said the woman wanted to remain anonymous.

"I think people are scared to come out personally right now as the risks are quite high,” she said.