Pakistani women journalists released a joint statement on attacks on women in media in Pakistan, which says that vicious attacks through social media are being directed at women journalists and commentators in Pakistan, making it incredibly difficult for them to carry out their professional duties.

The statement was signed by journalists including 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 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. 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). In some instances, our pictures and videos have also been morphed.”


The statement further says that 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. 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.”

The statement said 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. 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.”

Women journalists have asked Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari to fulfil her promise to take notice of threats against journalists and to address the climate of abuse, bullying, fear and censorship.

Their demands from the government include:

1) Immediately restrain its members from repeatedly targeting women in the media

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

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

They also called 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, apologise and list the actions they will now take to put an end to such a threatening environment.

It wasn’t later that the demands became the number one trend on Twitter in Pakistan, and PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted that he has taken notice of threats to women journalists as chair of the NA Human Rights Committee and would like to invite all the signatories to brief the committee.

As per the latest updates, the human rights minister has reacted to the trend, saying attacking women journalists for doing their job is disgusting.

In a subsequent tweet, Mazari said she had once again spoken to the information minister and stressed the need for Journalist Protection Bill.