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Women Journalists Seek Protection From Online Harassment By PTI Supporters

Pakistani women journalists have called upon the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government to hold accountable the perpetrators of vicious hate attacks directed at them through social media.

In a statement issued by a 16-strong group of journalists, they said: “The target of these attacks are women with differing viewpoints and those whose reports have been critical of the PTI government and more specifically its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.”

They stated that the attacks were making it ‘incredibly difficult’ for them to carry out their professional duties.

The statement said that 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 said. 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 added, noting that women were finding it ‘increasingly difficult’ to remain on social media platforms and engage freely, while many were forced to self-censor.

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“We are being prevented from exercising our right to free speech and participate in public discourse,” the journalists said, calling it a violation of Article 19.

The statement said that the women 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.

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

The statement urged 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’.

Reacting to the statement, Mazari said: “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.”

“Have again requested Info Minister to assist in fast-tracking our Journalist Protection Bill, which is not only an urgent need in Pakistan but an obligation under our Constitution and international law,” the minister added.

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Responding to this, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who heads the NA Standing Committee on Human Rights, tweeted: “Have 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.”

MNA Mohsin Dawar also supported the journalists. “Responding to criticism with threats is the sign of fascism.All those who believe in freedom of speech should put aside their differences & unite to condemn these fascist tactics. Strongly support all these demands. More power to each and every one of them. #AttacksWontSilenceUs


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Naya Daur