Pakistan Deep State’s continued war on journalists

The deep state of Pakistan has targeted all forms of free speech, civil society activists, human rights organizations and the media: print, electronic and social media. We at New Pakistan have consistently spoken out against this ‘war’ against the media.

On Wednesday Friday April 24, many Pakistan-based journalists were subjected to online smear campaigns. According to a report in Dawn, “The first series of the malicious hashtag campaigns emerged as the top three Twitter trends in Pakistan on Wednesday. The trends accompanied by scurrilous trolling, misinformation and doctored images targeted Marvi Sirmed, Mubashir Zaidi and Umar Cheema. According to social network analysis of the trends, the campaign against Marvi Sirmed generated the most tweets (over 11,000) within a span of two hours.”

Forty-eight hours later, on Friday, April 26, “seven other journalists were subjected to abuse and defamatory content. They included Saleem Safi, Arshad Waheed Chaudhry and Fakhar Durrani, who were accused of being ‘paid’ or supported by opposition parties. Arshad Waheed Chaudhry, for instance, was criticised after someone accused him of asking a ‘planted’ question to Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. Mr Chaudhry later responded via a tweet that such campaigns showed ‘how bothered they were’.”

According to the detailed reporting in Dawn, “users populated the hashtags using a structured network. Sharing multiple graphics showing how the network had trended the hashtags, Mr Rizwan [Saeed Rizwan, a social researcher] spotlighted four major Twitter accounts coordinating with a group of seemingly suspicious accounts. According to Twitter, the platform prohibits behaviour that encourages others to harass or target specific individuals or groups with abusive behaviour. “This includes, but is not limited to, calls to target people with abuse or harassment online and behavior that urges offline action such as physical harassment.” However, given the rising trends of abuse on Twitter, journalists and policy workers expressed disappointment over the platform’s inaction against accounts propagating abuse and hurling threats at critical voices.”

According to lawyer Waqqas Mir “the campaigns were a violation of Section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) which criminalises, among other things, displaying, exhibiting or transmitting information which one knows to be false and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of another.”

Yet the PTI government appeared unwilling or unable to do anything. “When asked what the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government was doing to ensure journalist safety online, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Digital Media Dr Arslan Khalid said such campaigns depicted failure of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the interior ministry. “We strongly condemn the campaigns. Abusive and defamatory behaviour is punishable under the cybercrime law and this should be investigated,” he said. Mr Khalid, who was the PTI’s social media secretary before assuming office, refuted allegations that the accounts running the campaigns were associated with the PTI. “This is despicable and the party has zero tolerance for abuse,” he said.”

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