Pakistan women journalists say they face online attacks instigated by government officials

Women journalists in Pakistan have alleged that Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government have been launching “vicious attacks” through social media against them for being critical towards the government.
A tweet by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said: “Women journalists say they are compelled to self-censor and refrain from engaging actively online, undermining public trust in journalism.”
The tweet by HRCP came in response to tweet by a journalist which contained a joint statement issued by over 20 women journalists.
The joint statement said the target of these attacks are women with differing viewpoints and those whose reports have been critical of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s government, and more “specifically its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.”
“Vicious attacks through social media are being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan, making it incredibly difficult for us to carry out our professional duties,” it said.
The statement asserted that 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.”
“In what is certainly a well-defined and coordinated campaign, personal details of women journalists and analysts have been made public. 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),” it said.
The signatories of the statement said in some instances, their pictures and videos have been morphed.
“Women in the media are not only targeted for their work but also their gender. 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,” the statement read.
The journalists in the statement underlined that 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,” they said.
“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,” they added.
The women journalists demanded that the government 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, and 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,” the statement said.

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