Women journalists seek protection against attacks on social media

KARACHI: A group of well-known Pakistani female journalists and commentators have sought protection against what they termed “vicious attacks” directed at them through social media, allegedly by people linked to the PTI government.

A joint statement, which has been signed so far by 30 female journalists belonging to various media outlets and mediums, stated that the attacks were making it “incredibly difficult” for them to carry out their professional duties.

Benazir Shah, Asma Shirazi, Mehmal Sarfaraz, Amber Rahim Shamsi and Reema Omer are among the women journalists and analysts who have signed the statement.

“The target of these attacks is women with differing viewpoints and those whose reports have been critical of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government, and more specifically its handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” the statement shared on Twitter said.

The statement, posted with hashtag #AttacksWontSilenceUs, said the online attacks were instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, “which declare their affiliation to the ruling party”.

According to the declaration, personal details of women journalists and analysts had been made public as part of a “well-defined and coordinated campaign”, while in some cases, their pictures and videos had also been morphed.

In addition, they were referred to as peddlers of “fake news”, “enemy of the people” and accused of taking bribes in order to discredit and intimidate the journalists, it added.

The statement said the persons involved in the campaign also targeted the journalists for their gender, posting gender-based slurs and threats of sexual and physical violence on their social media timelines.

“Lately, there have also been attempts to hack into the social media accounts of reporters and analysts, as well as limit [their] access to information,” it said, noting that women in the media were finding it “increasingly difficult” to remain on social media platforms and engage freely, while many were forced to self-censor.

“We are being prevented from exercising our right to free speech and participate in public discourse,” the journalists said, stressing that when they self-censor, members of the public are prevented from receiving information to form their views.

According to the statement, the female journalists do not enjoy the protection of the law against the online attacks and threats “and this is the direct result of the actions of those who hold positions in government and are affiliated with the PTI”.

The statement demanded of the government to “immediately restrain its members from repeatedly targeting women in the media” and “send out a clear message to all party members […] to desist from launching these attacks, whether directly or indirectly”. It also asked the government to “hold all such individuals within the government accountable and take action against them”.

It recalled that Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari had in July promised to take notice of the threats against journalists, but no progress had been made on the issue.

Responding to this, Ms. Mazari said she had requested the information minister to assist in fast-tracking the Journalist Protection Bill which, according to her, was not only an urgent need in Pakistan but also an obligation under the Constitution and international law.

“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 wrote on Twitter.

Invited to brief NA committee

The statement called upon the National Assembly and Senate standing committees on human rights to take notice of the threatening environment and “hold the government accountable”.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who heads the NA human rights committee, said he had taken notice of threats to women journalists as chair of human rights committee. “Would like to invite you all to come brief our committee on the issue,” he wrote on Twitter.

PPP leader Sherry Rehman said she would ask the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights to look into the growing trend of online abuse as well.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ) has strongly condemned the attacks on women journalists and demanded immediate and urgent action against the attackers.

Expressing solidarity with women journalists and anchors, PFUJ president Shahzada Zulfiqar and secretary general Nasir Zaidi demanded that the FIA’s cybercrime wing must immediately identify the culprits and the backers of the trolls, who were making life of the women journalists miserable.

“The government should not hesitate to arrest the culprits who pass on threats and misuse pictures [of women] by tampering with indecent content,” the PFUJ said.

Newspaper: Dawn

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