Women journalists have called attention to harassment, online abuse, and pressure from ruling party supporters towards those who exhibit differing viewpoints or have been critical of the incumbent government, especially about its handling of the novel coronavirus in the country.
According to a joint statement released on Wednesday by a group of noted Pakistani women journalists, “the vicious online attacks through social media are instigated by government supporters”.
Underscoring that women in the media are not only targeted for their work but also their gender, the statement said that there have also been attempts to hack into the social media accounts of reporters and analysts.
“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.
Stressing that such attempts are preventing the female journalist fraternity from exercising the right to free speech and participate in public discourse, the signatories to the statement noted that this has led to many being forced to self-censor. This results in others being prevented from receiving information to form their views, which is a violation of their rights under Article 19-A.
“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,” the statement said.
Demanding that the government immediately take notice of the highlighted concerns, the women journalists called upon the Standing Committees on Human Rights of the upper and lower house of parliament to hold the culprits accountable “by ensuring they acknowledge, apologise and list the actions they will now take to put an end to such a threatening environment”.
Responding to the concerns raised by the women journalists, Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari said that it is disturbing to learn of women journalists being targeted and abused for their view-points.
“Abusing women because they are critical is never acceptable. Journalists do their job and to target them, especially gender-based abusive attacks on women journos, is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting,” the minister wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also noted with concern the threats faced by women journalists.
In a tweet, the PPP leader said: “Have taken notice of threats to women journalists as chair of human rights committee. Would like to invite you all to come to brief our committee on the issue.”