Pakistan: Online harassment storm against BBC journalist

Famous Pakistani female journalist Asma Shirazi was harassed by a slew of online followers and supporters of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) party following a column published on BBC Urdu. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns online harassment against media and urges authorities and social media companies to act accordingly relating to any threat, intimidation and abuse by online users in breach of protocols and calls for due police investigation.

Journalist Asma Shirazi . Credit: twitter.com/asmashirazi

BBC’s journalist Asma Shirazi, known for critical remarks against censorship of journalists, was allegedly harassed and trolled on social media  in response to a recent  articlethat said the current PTI-led government was responsible the downfall of the economy. Organized troll campaigners channeled the attack online, accusing Asma of insulting Prime Minister Imran Khan’s wife Bushra Bibi in the article.

Dr Shahbaz Gill, a spokesperson and special assistant to Prime Minister on political communication, tweeted in response to her article while another senior leader and minister of PTI, Hammad Azhar, expressed his disappointment with the article. “Sad to see @BBCUrdu allowing their platform for such pathetic insinuations”, his tweet said. Another high journalist accused her of being associated with anti-government political party PML-N while many other journalists threw their support behind her.

The PTI official Twitter account posted a video conversation between Asma and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif accusing her of “obedience” to a “certified chor [thief] and absconder”. 

Asma has faced online harassment in the past. She was the target of harsh online abuse after interviewing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2018. In July 2019, she and other journalists critical of the PTI were targeted online.

According to the IFJ’s South Asia Press Freedom Report 2020-2021, several well-known Pakistani female journalists and commentators have been routinely trolled for their opinion, which makes it “incredibly difficult” for them to carry out their professional duties.

PFUJ secretary general, Rana Azeem, said: “The PFUJ has always been supporting freedom of speech and expression but at the same time understands that journalists should be impartial and follow the journalistic norms when filing comments against someone. There is a law for everyone to follow but undue trolling should not be appreciable.”

The IFJ said: “The IFJ strongly condemns the series of online harassment against Asma Shirazi by  cadres of the ruling political party. The IFJ is against any threat or violence against journalists and media – offline or online.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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