An open letter campaign initiated by women journalists in Pakistan against online threats and pressure has gained momentum after it gained 147 signatures since its circulation.
The statement, launched by a group of prominent women journalists, has alleged that 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 notes that there have been attempts to hack into the social media accounts of women reporters and analysts.
“In some cases, journalists have been locked out of their social media accounts as a result of hacking attempts,” reads 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 adds.
Shireen Mazari vows action
Earlier, during a hearing on the matter by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Human Rights, Minister of Human Rights Shireen Mazari had empathised with the women journalists who raised the matter and shared that she herself had been the target of cyber-bullying and harassment.
“My daughter and I are also going through the ordeal of harassment,” she said.
PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, who chaired the meeting, had read out the joint statement by the women journalists and commentators, wherein they had called to attention what they termed was a “well-defined and coordinated campaign”, in which the “personal details of women journalists and analysts have been made public”.
Noting that “all women face these challenges”, Mazari had said no women in any field should be treated in this manner.
Mazari said the ruling party condemned such acts. “On behalf of the PTI, I condemn the harassment of women journalists,” she said.
“There should be no abusive language on social media,” she added.
She had asked the women journalists to provide proof after a number of them accused Twitter accounts affiliated with the ruling PTI of harassment and abuse.
Journalist’s home ‘broken into’
Anchorperson Asma Shirazi, one of the signatories of the statement, claimed the women journalists were being harassed for their “difference of opinion”.
“Twice, people have broken into my house to harass me. I don’t know if the PTI’s media cell or anyone else is involved in this harassment,” Shirazi alleged.
“If we tweet, the comments that come below it are indescribable,” she added.
Personal pictures ‘morphed’
Analyst Reema Omer, the legal advisor for South Asia at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), said the harassment of women online was “an undeniable and painful truth”.
“There have been instances where pictures with my husband were doctored to add images of [Indian spy] Kulbhushan Jadhav,” Omer claimed.
“Erroneous news reports cannot be a justification for harassment,” she added.