Online abuse, threats: Women journalists raise concerns

August 13, 2020

KARACHI: A group of women journalists and commentators have voiced their concerns against the alleged harassment, online threats, and pressure from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters...

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KARACHI: A group of women journalists and commentators have voiced their concerns against the alleged harassment, online threats, and pressure from the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters towards those who have differing viewpoints or have been critical of the incumbent government and more specificallyits handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

A joint statement signed by dozens of women journalists said that “vicious” online attacks at women journalists have made it “incredibly difficult” for them to carry out professional duties. It also said those who have been critical of the Imran Khan-led government and its handling of the pandemic were specifically targeted.

“We are being prevented from exercising our right to free speech and participate in public discourse. When we self-censor, others are prevented from receiving information to form their views, which is a violation of their rights under Article 19-A," the journalists said. “In some cases, journalists have been locked out of their social media accounts as a result of hacking attempts.”

The journalists have also accused the alleged abusers of morphing their photographs and videos, apart from making gender-based slurs and sexual threats. “To further discredit, frighten and intimidate us, we are referred to as peddlers of ‘fake news’, ‘enemy of the people’ and accused of taking bribes (often termed as ‘paid’ journalists or lifafas),” the statement said.

The journalists demanded the government to immediately restrain its members from repeatedly targeting women in the media, send out a clear message to all ruling party members, supporters, and followers, to desist from launching these attacks, whether directly or indirectly and hold all such individuals within the government accountable and take action against them.

They also called upon the Standing Committees on Human Rights of the upper and lower house of parliament to take notice and hold the government accountable by ensuring they acknowledge, apologize, and list the actions they will now take to put an end to such a threatening environment.

Mehmal Sarfraz, Benazir Shah, Zebunnisa Burki, Asma Shirazi, Tanzeela Mazhar, Munizae Jahangir, Nasim Zehra, Gharidah Farooqi and Kamila Hyat were prominent among the signatories of the statement.

Reacting to the statement, Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said abusing women because they are critical of the government “is never acceptable”. “Disturbing to learn of women journalists being targeted and abused. Abusing women bec they are critical is never acceptable. Journalists do their job & to target them, especially gender-based abusive attacks on women journos, is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting,” she posted on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is also the chairman of the National Assembly's Standing Committee for Human Rights in Pakistan, tweeted saying he has taken note of threats to women journalists. He has also invited them to brief the committee on the issues faced by them.

Also, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has strongly condemned attacks on women journalists employed in different media organisations, and demanded immediate and urgent action against the attackers, and those who are backing these attackers.

While expressing solidarity with women journalists and anchors, PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said, “By using social media and other means, threatening and abusive trolling against women journalists, the work environment has been made difficult for them to carry out independent and balanced contents for viewers and readers. Authorities seem to be indifferent and unconcerned, which is alarming for the entire journalists community.”

The PFUJ has demanded that FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing must immediately find out the culprits and backers of these trolls, who are making the lives of women journalists hard as they cannot carry out their professional responsibilities in such situation and environment. “Government should not hesitate to arrest the culprits who are making threats and misusing their pictures by tampering and photoshopping with indecent content,” they added.

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