Pakistan ranks high on the list of countries that are hostile to freedom of speech and media freedoms. Imran Khan’s government, contrary to speeches the Prime Minister gives in foreign locales, has been one of the most hostile to the media and intolerant of dissent in decades.
Individuals and organizations have been targeted on social media and also by the state with the latest target being seasoned anchorperson Asma Shirazi. Shirazi in her column for BBC Urdu on Pakistan’s floundering economy, concluded with the lines that “no amount of superstitious rituals could rescue it.”
Immediately, cabinet members “pounced on Ms Shirazi and fired off tweets casting aspersions on her character and journalistic integrity and, of course, questioning her patriotism. Shamefully enough, even the PTI’s official Twitter account did not desist from adding to the vitriol. These actions predictably coalesced in a tsunami of trolling from PTI supporters that went on for several days using vile hashtags.”
According to an editorial in Dawn, when the ruling party and government ministers “themselves become part of a verbal lynch mob against a journalist for their views, it is particularly condemnable. When they single out female journalists, it is all the more malicious, because in a misogynistic society like Pakistan, such campaigns take on a darker edge. The women’s public profile and active social media presence put them at heightened risk of online abuse which in their case, unlike their male counterparts, is almost invariably of a deeply personal and sexualised nature. Such attacks can have a profound psychological impact on those at the receiving end.”
As the editorial noted, PTI and the Prime Minister’s own advisors have “breached every norm of decency.”