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#AttacksWontSilenceUs trends as Pakistani women journalists unite, release statement on online trolling by ruling party goons

Just Earth News | @justearthnews | 13 Aug 2020 Print

#AttacksWontSilenceUs trends as Pakistani women journalists unite, release statement on online trolling by ruling party goons

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Islamabad: Several women journalists and commentators in Pakistan have united and issued a joint statement against online abuse and trolling that they face daily, making it "incredibly difficult" for them to carry out their "professional duties". The claims tweeted with #AttacksWontSilenceUs is trending at the top of charts in the Muslim majority nation.

Signed by prominent women journalists like Asma Shirazi, Nasim Zehra, Gharidah Farooqi, Amber Shamsi, Benazir Shah, Mehmal Sarfraz, Zebunnisa Burki, Alia Chughtai, Ayesha Bakhsh, Munizae Jahangir, Ramsha Jahangir, Alina Farooqi, Reem Khurshid, Najia Ashar and many more, the statement said the attacks are backed by Imran Khan-led ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. 

The online attacks are instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, which declare their affiliation to the ruling party," it read.

The statement alleged that the attackers have made public personal details of women journalists and analysts.

"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). In some instances, our pictures and videos have also been morphed,' it said.

The women further alleged that they are often targeted based on gender and threats of physical and sexual violence are rampant on social media.

"These have the potential to incite violence and lead to hate crimes, putting our physical safety at risk.

Lately, there have also been attempts to hack into the social media accounts of reporters and analysts, as well as limit our access to information. In some cases, journalists have been locked out of their social media accounts as a result of hacking attempts.

"Women in the media, especially those on social media platforms, are finding it increasingly difficult to remain on these platforms and engage freely. Many now self-censor, refrain from sharing information, giving their opinion or actively engaging online," it said.

The attacks, which are purposeful in nature, aims to suppress the availability of free and fair information, which are perceived as a threat to the PTI government, as they often expose the incompetent leadership of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan.

"These sustained attacks undermine public trust in journalism and go against the basic tenets of democracy. It is a public right to access accurate and reliable information, especially during a public health emergency. 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.

When attacks and threats are made against us, we do not enjoy the protection of the law as guaranteed under Article 4, and this is the direct result of the actions of those who hold positions in government and are affiliated with the PTI," it said.

The statement has also placed three demands before the government and has asked them to act as soon as possible.

The demands include:

Immediately restrain its members from repeatedly targeting women in the media

Send out a clear message to all party members, supporters and followers, to desist from launching these attacks, whether directly or indirectly

Hold all such individuals within the government accountable and take action against them

"We also call 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," it said.

Taking cognisance of the matter, Pakistan Peoples Party chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who is also the chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the National Assembly, 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."