Vile social media attacks target Pakistani women journalists

In this Friday, Sept. 11, 2020 photo, Alena Waqar, a female journalist from local tv channel Geo News, gives live reporting during a rally, in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AP)
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Updated 19 September 2020

Vile social media attacks target Pakistani women journalists

  • International press freedom organizations believe the attacks are mostly launched by fans of the ruling PTI party
  • More than 100 Pakistani women journalists recently demanded an end to these online assaults by signing a petition

KABUL: The Committee to Protect Journalists on Friday condemned relentless social media attacks on women journalists in Pakistan — vicious assaults that have threatened rape and even death.
The attacks often follow instances of public criticism of the ruling party, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former celebrity cricket player who turned to politics later in life and whose following includes legions of young people.
Criticism had focused on Khan’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Pakistan has reported over 304,00 cases of the virus, including 6,408 deaths. The numbers have been declining since June, with fewer than 400 new cases reported on most days and as testing has increased.
The relentless trolling and mounting complaints from women journalists prompted CPJ’s Asia program coordinator Steve Butler and senior Asia researcher Aliya Iftikhar to warn that those spewing abuse online of Pakistani women journalists are often fans of the ruling party.
The New York-based group did not provide evidence of direct links between the perpetrators and Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI.
CPJ’s statement, featuring testimonials from several Pakistani women journalists, comes after a petition, signed by more than 100 women journalists, submitted to the government last month demanding an end to the online assaults.
“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 petition said.
“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 added. “In what is certainly a well-defined and coordinated campaign, personal details of women journalists and analysts have been made public.”
CPJ also said the attacks have “dire offline consequences,” with many female reporters saying they are being forced out of their jobs or feel prevented from fully participating in their profession.
Khan’s government and the country’s powerful military and its much feared intelligence agency, have been harshly criticized for their heavy-handed approach to its critics in the media. Journalists have been picked up, civil rights activists are in jail, some for months without being charged.
Others, such as rights activist Gulalai Ismail, have been charged with sedition for criticizing the military and forced to flee the country.
Separately, the Coalition for Women in Journalism, a global rights group, this week released a 20-page report on attacks on social media faced by Pakistan’s women journalists, saying they come from online “accounts affiliated to the ruling party and conservative, right-wing elements in the country.”
“Such deplorable acts further draw our attention to the grim environment against women journalists and press freedom,” said Kiran Nazish, the group’s founding director.
One of the petition signatories, journalist Asma Shirazi who hosts a prime time current affairs show, said the women journalists are not asking for sympathy.
“I need support for freedom of expression in the country,” she said. “I am not a victim. I believe in defiance.”
She said the trolling is an attempt by the government to shut down criticism on social media. “Whenever you criticize PTI, the attacks begin. They are all institution sponsored.”
AP’s calls to government and military officials seeking comment were not answered Friday.
However, Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari tweeted last month that it was “disturbing to learn of women journalists being targeted and abused.”
Abusing women because they are critical is never acceptable, she said at the time. “Journalists do their job & to target them, especially gender-based abusive attacks on women journos, is absolutely unacceptable and disgusting.”


Captured Indian pilot’s return signified Pakistan’s 'mature response,' says military spokesman

Updated 29 October 2020

Captured Indian pilot’s return signified Pakistan’s 'mature response,' says military spokesman

  • Major General Babar Iftikhar responds to an opposition politician who claimed the government released the prisoner due to fear of war
  • The spokesman says Pakistan gave India a ‘bloody nose’ that still hurts

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan released an Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, after shooting down his fighter jet during an aerial dogfight over Kashmir in February 2019 to give peace a chance in the region, said the chief of the military’s media wing on Thursday, adding it was “misleading and disappointing” to attribute the country’s decision to anything but its “mature response” as a responsible state.
The statement of Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) Major General Babar Iftikhar came a day after former National Assembly speaker and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Sardar Ayaz Sadiq said that the government had released the Indian pilot due to fear of an imminent attack from India.
“A statement was given yesterday that tried to distort facts related to a national security issue,” Iftikhar said without naming anyone. “I am here to set the record straight.”
Addressing a news conference with “one-point agenda,” he said that Pakistan’s armed forces displayed their ability to respond to “Indian aggression” last year before releasing the captured pilot in accordance with the Geneva Convention.
“We gave them a bloody nose and it is still hurting,” he said while referring to Pakistan’s response to India’s violation of its airspace in February last year.
The former National Assembly speaker claimed on Wednesday that the government had asked parliamentary leaders to let Abhinandan go, predicting an attack from the country’s nuclear-armed neighbor.
However, Sadiq issued a clarification on Thursday, saying that Indian media was “misreporting” his statement.
Alluding to his words in the National Assembly, the DG ISPR said that the negative narrative was “directly affecting the national security” of Pakistan, adding that India was taking full advantage of it.
“This narrative is being used to minimize India’s defeat and loss,” he said. “It also amounts to creating undue controversy around Pakistan’s clear supremacy and victory over India, and I think this is not acceptable to any Pakistani.”
Asked about recent statements of opposition leaders against the military leadership, he said the armed forces were an organized institution and its rank and file could not be separated.
“No one can create differences between the rank and file of the armed forces,” he said. “There is complete unity and it will continue to remain that way.”
An 11-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), has accused the security establishment of meddling in politics and helping Prime Minister Imran Khan’s rise to power in the 2018 general elections.
“This political polarization will continue. It will increase. There may emerge a situation where there is a severe constitutional crisis,” Adnan Rehmat, a political analyst, told Arab News. “The opposition would never have targeted state institutions if the government had not subjected its leaders to undue and unfair pressure.”

PML-N leaders, however, denied that they wanted a clash with any institution to make political gains.
“Our protests and struggle against the government is purely democratic and constitutional. We don’t intend to clash with our state institutions,” Malik Abrar Ahmed, a senior PML-N leader, told Arab News.
The country’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, also held a meeting with the prime minister on Thursday to discuss “professional matters pertaining to Pakistan Army, internal and external security situation,” according to the PM Office.