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Pakistani regulator warns media against promoting Valentine’s Day

A Pakistani woman leaves a shop decorated with Valentine's signs in Peshawar. (A Majeeda/AFP)

Valentine’s Day is a source of controversy this week in Pakistan, where Islamists have staged protests against the holiday and regulators have asked media to "honor viewers' sentiments" and official media codes in restraining any holiday-themed programs.

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, or PEMRA, sent a letter to TV and radio stations reminding them that the holiday is “not in conformity to our religious and cultural ethos.” The letter warns that "a large segment of society" has complained about "Valentine's Day celebrations" and blames Valentine's Day for “depraving, corrupting and injuring morality of Pakistani youth.”

The letter, which Time reporter Omar Waraich posted on Twitter, stops short of banning Valentine’s Day programs but does condemn the holiday's "unequivocal propagation through media." The letter begins:

It is generally observed that in the past "Valentine's Day" is celebrated on February 14 by all the satellite TV channels whether an Entertainment or News & Current Affairs channel. PEMRA has been receiving complaints from a large segment of society that Valentine's Day celebrations are not in conformity to our religious and cultural ethos and has, therefore, condemned its unequivocal propagation through media. Furthermore, such events have been perceived as a source of depraving, corrupting and injuring morality of Pakistani youth as well as violating Code of Conduct developed by PEMRA in pursuance of Rule 15 & PEMRA Rules 2009.

Photos like the one at the top of this post show stores selling Valentine's-themed, heart-print gifts in cities such as Peshawar. Other photos from Islamabad and Karachi show street vendors selling roses and heart-shaped balloons.

Some Islamist organizations are protesting the holiday. A sign credited to Tanzeem-e-Islami, an Islamist group, urges romantics to “SAY NO TO VALENTINE’S DAY.”

On Feb. 12, according to Agence France-Presse, student supporters of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami staged an anti-Valentine’s protest outside the press club in Peshawar. Many of the protesters called for a “day of modesty” instead.

"We will not allow holding of any Valentine's Day function," one of the organizers, Shahzad Ahmed, told AFP. "The law enforcing agencies must prevent such gatherings, otherwise we will stop in our own way."

If the PEMRA letter is any indication, though, the holiday will proceed this year without too much interference from the government, at least. And some Pakistanis seem to be having fun with the debate on social media.

“Say no to Valentines day,” a man in Charsadda tweeted, “... if you don't have a valentine.”