UN expresses concerns over violence against journalists, human rights activists in Pakistan

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GENEVA: The United Nations Human Rights Office on Tuesday expressed its concern over the increasing instances of threats of violence against journalists and human rights activists in Pakistan.

“We have followed with increasing concern numerous instances of incitement to violence – online and offline – against journalists and human rights defenders in Pakistan, in particular against women and minorities. Especially worrying are accusations of blasphemy – which can put accused individuals at imminent risk of violence,” said a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville in a briefing.

He also cited that last month many women journalists in Pakistan have warned about the “concentrated campaign” of Social Media attacks against “those critical of government policies”, the Dawn reported quoting the spokesperson.

Marvi Sirmed

“Pakistani women journalists last month publicly warned of what they described as a “coordinated campaign” of social media attacks against those who have been critical of Government policies,” the spokesperson said.

One of the journalists and Human rights defender Marvi Sirmed “received numerous messages on social media containing highly derogatory and violent language, including gender-based slurs and death threats”.

“Accusations of blasphemy on social media were followed by actual police complaints filed against Sirmed, whose personal details were also revealed on Twitter,” he added.

Colville further said that in 2019, at least four journalists and bloggers were killed in connection with their reporting. Among them was Arooj Iqbal, a woman who was shot dead in Lahore as she sought to launch her own local newspaper. “Last Saturday (5 September), journalist ShaheenaShaheen was shot dead by unidentified men in Balochistan’sKech district,” he informed further.

“In the vast majority of such cases, those responsible have not been investigated, prosecuted and held to account. We have raised our concerns directly with the Government and we have urged immediate, concrete steps to ensure the protection of journalists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to threats,” he said.

Colville further stressed on the need for “prompt, effective, thorough and impartial” investigations with a view to “ensuring accountability” in cases of violence and killings.

“Victims and their families have the right to justice, truth, and reparations. We welcome that in the case of Shaheen, a number of high-level Government officials have condemned the murder and pledged to bring to justice the perpetrators,” he added.

The UN rights office also called on the Pakistani Government to “unequivocally condemn incitement to violence against religious minorities”. “We call on them to encourage respect for diversity of opinion. We encourage the Government to address impediments to the active protection of the right to freedom of expression, including by carrying out legal reforms,” the spokesperson said further. 

In July, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based non-profit organization, has warned Pakistani authorities from targetting the country’s journalists based abroad and if anything happens to them or their families, the authorities will be held responsible.

Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019. (ANI)