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Women Journalists Urge Government to Act Against Online Threats

by Newsweek Pakistan

File photo. Safin Hamed—AFP

Alleging that PTI supporters are continuously harassing them, the signatories have urged the government end online attacks

Pakistani women journalists on Wednesday issued a joint statement detailing the online harassment, threats, and pressure they have faced from supporters of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and urged the government to ensure their freedom of speech and end the “threatening environment.”

The statement, which includes several prominent Pakistani journalists and analysts, alleged that such “vicious online attacks through social media are instigated by government supporters.” It said that women in the media for often targeted not only for their work, but also over their gender. All the signatories said there had been attempts to hack into their social media accounts in recent days, prompting them to issue this statement.

“In some cases, journalists have been locked out of their social media accounts as a result of hacking attempts,” read the statement. “Our social media timelines are then barraged with gender-based slurs, threats of sexual and physical violence. These have the potential to incite violence and lead to hate crimes, putting our physical safety at risk,” it added, referring to the substantive threat of violence that continues to make Pakistan one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The signatories stressed that the ongoing attempts to silence them were in violation of their right to free speech, adding many had been forced to self-censor to avoid virtual mobs. This, said the statement, results in the public being prevented from receiving independent information in direct violation of their rights under Article 19-A of Pakistan’s Constitution.

“Last July, Shireen Mazari, the minister for human rights, promised to take notice of threats against journalists and to address the climate of abuse, bullying, fear, and censorship. Ms. Mazari, we are waiting,” said the statement, adding that the government must take notice and the Standing Committees on Human Rights of Parliament should hold the culprits accountable “by ensuring they acknowledge, apologize and list the actions they will now take to put an end to such a threatening environment.”

Government responds

In a posting on Twitter, minister Mazari said the statement was “disturbing.” She said that abusing women merely because they were critical of the government was unacceptable. “Journalists do their job and to target them, especially gender-based abusive attacks on women journos, is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting,” she added.

But while Mazari sought to assure the journalist community, adding that a Journalist Protection Bill would be fast-tracked, Planning Minister Asad Umar appeared to adopt a combative tone. In a post on Twitter, he said that using abusive language against anyone “man or woman” was wrong. “Spreading fake news is wrong. Period. Labeling those who call out your fake news as abusers is wrong. Period. All these three things are happening. All three should be condemned,” he said, with observers saying it appeared he was justifying the online abuse in response to so-called “fake news.”

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