Zakia, an acid attack survivor, fears the backlash the film could bring at home.
Zakia, an acid attack survivor, fears the backlash the film could bring at home.

Saving Face, the Oscar-winning film too painful for release in Pakistan

Pakistan praised Saving Face, a documentary about women disfigured by acid attacks, after it won an Oscar in February. But the film may never be shown there as its subjects have launched a court battle to stop its release, fearing reprisals. Zeeshan Haider reports from Islamabad

It is barely three months since Pakistan's first Oscar winner triumphantly brandished the coveted golden statue with the words: "All the women in Pakistan working for change, don't give up on your dreams, this one is for you."

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy had just accepted the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short for Saving Face, a harrowing yet uplifting account of female acid-attack victims.

Copies of the film were presented to Hollywood stars such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt, with Saving Face and the issues it raised seemingly set for an international audience.

Plaudits came thick and fast. Ms Obaid-Chinoy was awarded Pakistan's highest civil award, while Angelina Jolie wrote a commentary about her for Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" list.

Pakistan's president, Asif Ali Zardari, applauded the 33-year-old filmmaker for "bringing laurels to the country ... and sending a message to the world".

Yet while Ms Obaid-Chinoy's Oscar acceptance speech was broadcast on Pakistani television, it seems her documentary may never be seen in the country of her birth.

The opposition has come from a surprising source - some of the female survivors of the acid attacks, who are threatening legal action to prevent the film being seen by their neighbours and families.

Mohammed Khan, the director of the Acid Survivors Federation Pakistan (ASF), claims the women "thought this film [was] for international audiences, and that's why they appeared in the film. They had no idea that it [would] be shown in Pakistan as well".

His organisation helped in the making of the documentary but Mr Khan said the women face a backlash and reprisals in their male-dominated communities.

"You are well aware of the society and you know what will happen if a film showing a girl who has suffered acid attack is seen in her village," he said.

Saving Face chronicles the work of Dr Mohammad Jawad, a British-Pakistani plastic surgeon who travels to Pakistan to carry out reconstructive surgery on women who have been disfigured by acid attacks. The 42-minute film is dedicated in part to two of these women from Punjab province, Rukhsana, 23, and Zakia, 39, who both agreed to be filmed.

Rukhsana's husband threw acid on her after she refused to live with him. Her sister-in-law poured petrol on her, while her mother-in-law lit a match to set her on fire.

One of those seeking to block the film's release in Pakistan is Naila Farhat, who makes a brief appearance in the documentary.

At 13 she was left blind in one eye after a man she refused to marry threw acid in her face as she walked home from Independence Day celebrations.

Now 22 and training as a nurse, Ms Farhat says showing Saving Face in her home country would be "disrespectful to my family, to my relatives, and they'll make an issue of it".

She fears the film could put her and the other women in danger.

"We're scared that, God forbid, we could face the same type of incident again. We do not want to show our faces to the world," she said.

Ms Obaid-Chinoy, a Canadian-Pakistani, and her co-director, Daniel Junge, had hoped to use the film as a launch pad for a campaign to create wider awareness of the problem of acid attacks in Pakistan, and mobilise action against it.

The filmmakers had planned to screen Saving Face at colleges and universities across the country.

The documentary has already been shown on the cable channel HBO in North America and by Britain's Channel 4.

According to Naveed Muzaffarar Khan, the lawyer representing the ASF and six of the women, a case has been filed at the Islamabad district court, which restrains the filmmakers until the case is decided. The next hearing will be on June 6.

Mr Muzaffarar Khan claims that none of the women consented for the film to get a public release in their home country, and that the objection of just one would be sufficient to block it.

"The survivors are opposed to the screening of the film in Pakistan because they are facing threats," he said. "They all come from conservative communities."

He told the AFP news agency that the victims "were absolutely clear in their mind in not allowing any public screening, as that would jeopardise their life in Pakistan and make it difficult for them to continue to live in their villages".

The ASF's Mohammed Khan said his organisation does not "want to blow this issue out of proportions but, of course, we will go to court if they did not come to any agreement that bars its screening in Pakistan".

In reply, the filmmakers insist that they obtained full written permission from all the women, including Ms Farhat, for a global release that also covered Pakistan.

Mr Junge has described the allegations as "false", adding: "We had great plans to both screenings and broadcast in Pakistan but currently all plans are on hold.

"One person - the film's principal subject, Zakia - initially asked that we not show the film in Pakistan but has since given permission, in writing, to do so, so long as we make a few edits for the family's safety, which we have done."

Mr Junge said he and Ms Obaid-Chinoy were concerned at the safety of their subjects, but added: "If the film does not ultimately get released in its home country, this will be unfortunate for all those who wanted the message to be out, and for potential future acid victims."

Officials estimate that there are about 150 cases involving acid every year. Women's-rights groups put the figure much higher, with many cases unreported in rural areas where feudal and tribal customs hold sway.

Disfiguring acid attacks are a major weapon of domestic violence in Pakistan, with male relatives or in-laws seeking to "punish" female relatives they believe have damaged the "honour" of a family over issues that can include them marrying a man without their consent.

In March, Fakhra Yunus, a former dancer who was badly mutilated in an acid attack 13 year earlier, allegedly carried out by her husband, committed suicide by jumping from the roof of a clinic in Italy where she was being treated.

Last year, legislation was passed to tackle the problem. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act allows courts to impose prison sentences from 14 years to life, along with a fine of 1 million rupees (Dh40,000).

But many of the accused escape punishment, either by intimidating the families of victims or by using their influence to weaken the presentation of cases in court.

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Company profile

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How to join and use Abu Dhabi’s public libraries

• There are six libraries in Abu Dhabi emirate run by the Department of Culture and Tourism, including one in Al Ain and Al Dhafra.

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July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

The Dark Blue Winter Overcoat & Other Stories From the North
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Women’s T20 World Cup Qualifier

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Group A: United States, Ireland, Scotland, Bangladesh
Group B: UAE, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Papua New Guinea

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Sept 19, 3pm, Tolerance Oval - PNG v UAE
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Company name: Bedu

Started: 2021

Founders: Khaled Al Huraimel, Matti Zinder, Amin Al Zarouni

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: AI, metaverse, Web3 and blockchain

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Investors: Privately funded

Switching sides

Mahika Gaur is the latest Dubai-raised athlete to attain top honours with another country.

Velimir Stjepanovic (Serbia, swimming)
Born in Abu Dhabi and raised in Dubai, he finished sixth in the final of the 2012 Olympic Games in London in the 200m butterfly final.

Jonny Macdonald (Scotland, rugby union)
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Sophie Shams (England, rugby union)
The daughter of an English mother and Emirati father, Shams excelled at rugby in Dubai, then after attending university in the UK played for England at sevens.

UAE set for Scotland series

The UAE will host Scotland for a three-match T20I series at the Dubai International Stadium next month.
The two sides will start their Cricket World Cup League 2 campaigns with a tri-series also involving Canada, starting on January 29.
That series will be followed by a bilateral T20 series on March 11, 13 and 14.

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Company name: Nomad Homes
Started: 2020
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David Mackenzie, founder of recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones Middle East

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1,000 tonnes of waste collected daily:

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800 tonnes of RDF replaces 500 tonnes of coal

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Real Madrid 2 (Benzema 13', Kroos 28')
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Red card: Casemiro (Real Madrid)

The Details

Kabir Singh

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Starring: Shahid Kapoor, Kiara Advani, Suresh Oberoi, Soham Majumdar, Arjun Pahwa

Rating: 2.5/5 

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Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

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Bitcoin is the most popular virtual currency in the world. It was created in 2009 as a new way of paying for things that would not be subject to central banks that are capable of devaluing currency. A Bitcoin itself is essentially a line of computer code. It's signed digitally when it goes from one owner to another. There are sustainability concerns around the cryptocurrency, which stem from the process of "mining" that is central to its existence.

The "miners" use computers to make complex calculations that verify transactions in Bitcoin. This uses a tremendous amount of energy via computers and server farms all over the world, which has given rise to concerns about the amount of fossil fuel-dependent electricity used to power the computers. 

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9.25pm: Handicap (TB) $175,000 (D) 1,900m
10pm: Handicap (TB) $135,000 (T) 1,600m

Some of Darwish's last words

"They see their tomorrows slipping out of their reach. And though it seems to them that everything outside this reality is heaven, yet they do not want to go to that heaven. They stay, because they are afflicted with hope." - Mahmoud Darwish, to attendees of the Palestine Festival of Literature, 2008

His life in brief: Born in a village near Galilee, he lived in exile for most of his life and started writing poetry after high school. He was arrested several times by Israel for what were deemed to be inciteful poems. Most of his work focused on the love and yearning for his homeland, and he was regarded the Palestinian poet of resistance. Over the course of his life, he published more than 30 poetry collections and books of prose, with his work translated into more than 20 languages. Many of his poems were set to music by Arab composers, most significantly Marcel Khalife. Darwish died on August 9, 2008 after undergoing heart surgery in the United States. He was later buried in Ramallah where a shrine was erected in his honour.

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Price, base / as tested Dh207,846 / Dh220,000

Engine 6.2L V8

Transmission Eight-speed automatic

Power 420hp @ 5,600rpm

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Fuel economy, combined 13.5L / 100km

Fixtures (all in UAE time)


Everton v Burnley 11pm


Bournemouth v Tottenham Hotspur 3.30pm

West Ham United v Southampton 6pm

Wolves v Fulham 6pm

Cardiff City v Crystal Palace 8.30pm

Newcastle United v Liverpool 10.45pm


Chelsea v Watford 5pm

Huddersfield v Manchester United 5pm

Arsenal v Brighton 7.30pm


Manchester City v Leicester City 11pm