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Pakistan women journalists say they face online abuse by officials for criticising Imran govt

36 women journalists in Pakistan have alleged that online attacks are instigated by officials of the Imran Khan government and 'amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts'.

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New Delhi: Several Pakistani women journalists and commentators issued a statement Wednesday condemning alleged trolling and online abuse by government officials and other Twitter users affiliated to the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

The joint statement said “vicious” online attacks at women journalists have made it “incredibly difficult” for them to carry out professional duties. It also said those who have been critical of the Imran Khan-led government and its handling of the pandemic were specifically targetted.

As many as 36 women journalists from Pakistan have signed the statement (at the time of publishing this report), including many award winning names such as Benazir Shah, Asma Shirazi, Mehmal Sarfraz, Ayesha Bakhsh and Amber Shamsi.

“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,” the statement read.

It also alleged that 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”.

The signatories have accused the alleged abusers of morphing their photographs and videos, apart from making gender-based slurs and sexual threats.

“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),” the statement said.

Reacting to the statement, Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights Shireen Mazari said abusing women because they are critical of the government “is never acceptable”.

“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,” she posted on Twitter.

In a subsequent tweet, Mazari also said she has requested the country’s information 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”.

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‘Social media platforms must formulate policy against abuse’

The journalists have asked the Pakistani government to take action against such perpetrators and stop them from targetting women online.

Ramsha Jahangir, one of the signatories and journalist at Dawn, told ThePrint that all political parties must formulate a social media policy against harassment and abuse.

“There should be accountability for accounts affiliated to political parties hurling abuse and involved in smear,” she added.

Jahangir also said the statement, which was initially shared among 10 people, has now been made public.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is also chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee for Human Rights in Pakistan, tweeted saying he has taken note of threats to women journalists. He has also invited them to brief the committee on issues faced by them.

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