Islamabad [Pakistan], July 30 (ANI): Pakistan has consistently ranked low on indices rating freedom of expression, and online spaces are no different. Women in particular face the brunt of harassment and abuse.
Pakistan women journalists reporting on critical issues face increased risks of attack and censorship.
Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 with constant regulations and censorship of the media, as per the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2021. Laws such as sedition and defamation, particularly criminal defamation, have been used to pursue cases against journalists.
According to Geo TV, National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha on Friday said, "One of the biggest challenges in online spaces in Pakistan, evidenced by the breadth of research on the subject, is online violence and harassment."
"Freedom of the press and freedom of the media are cornerstones for any functioning, successful democracy," she said.
The remarks of the NCHR chairperson came during a meeting for female journalists to express their concerns and collectively address the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis including online violence and harassment.
The meeting was organised by the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), in collaboration with the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ), where women journalists from across Pakistan took part, Geo TV reported.
A Pakistani lawyer and Internet activist, Nighat Dad, who runs a non-profit organisation working for Cyber rights, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) said, "Online spaces are increasingly becoming hostile for women journalists and women in general."
She identified five ways online freedom of expression has been negatively impacted including legal restrictions, extra-judicial excesses, online violence and harassment, monitoring and gendered disinformation against women journalists.
While the Constitution of Pakistan provides safeguards for online speech in the form of Article 19 for free expression and Article 19(A) for the right to information, these freedoms have increasingly come under attack, Geo TV reported.
Freedom Network, a media watchdog, said that 33 journalists were killed for their work between 2013 and 2019 in Pakistan.
The report also revealed that journalists who work in print media are twice more likely to be targets of legal action than those who work in electronic media.
The country is one of the most dangerous places for journalists and the conditions for women scribes are even more appalling due to widespread online abuse, hatred and physical violence.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), particularly section 20, is frequently used to initiate proceedings against activists for critiquing state institutions. Women in particular face the brunt of harassment and abuse.
Women journalists are even more at risk of violence and threats due to the strict patriarchal societal norms in Pakistan.
A large number face threats in the form of rape, physical violence and intimidation in the form of public revealing of their personal data on daily basis. Journalists, citing growing cases of online bullying, say that these can incite violence and result in hate crimes, putting their safety at risk.
Experts say that given the poor statistics of gender inequality in Pakistan, women journalists have to go the extra mile within media spheres to earn high authority positions and standard wages as compared to their male counterparts.
Media in Pakistan is heavily censored and any criticism of those in power or establishment, a euphemism used for the all-powerful military, is frowned upon. The journalists who criticise the establishment face threats from the intelligence arm of the military, ISI, and are subjected to various forms of harassment. (ANI)