March 30, 2019
ISLAMABAD - The Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) has condemned the online campaign against its member, and prominent Pakistani journalist Marvi Sirmed.
The coalition said in a statement that the online campaigns against women journalists in the country were reaching unprecedented capacity, with this one inciting the murder of Sirmed.
“It falls under incitement of serious crimes against humanity, and the authorities must act swiftly to ensure her safety and security.”
On March 29, Sirmed became the target of a new online campaign that is spreading misinformation and inciting people to violence against her.
Sirmed was incorrectly linked to a news story about incest. The account that posted the campaign on Facebook goes by the name of Saqib Hussain, started with installing a false claim that she brought ten homeless people to Islamabad and encouraged them to participate in incestuous acts. More than 225,000 people follow the account.
The post also claims that Sirmed is acting against Islam and wants “free sex, incestuous society.” Photos stolen from Sirmed’s Facebook account have been made public, along with other personal details, including her home address, ID card number, and other contact details also released.
The post ends by calling on all Muslims to murder Sirmed and her “mafia of godless liberals.”
Speaking about the growing abuse of women journalists in Pakistan, CFWIJ Founding Director Kiran Nazish said: “Every few days in a month I find myself grappling with a new set of cases of different forms of harassment against #women #journalists coming from Pakistan. This is unprecedented, and we demand the Pakistani government to get involved immediately, to ensure the safety of women journalists in the country."
She also said: “Inciting violence and propaganda against women journalists in the country has become a norm and it is imperative that the government gets involved.”
The CFWIJ demanded that social media platforms such as Facebook take a more active role in making sure that the communities they have built are safe for women journalists, along with other users. “It is alarming that a campaign of this nature can remain on the platform long enough for dozens if not hundreds of people to consume it.”
“Social media is a tool that can be used for great good but is also, unfortunately, being used for negative purposes that violate fundamental rights and human dignity. Posts targeting women particularly create a negative environment that enables further abuse,” says senior journalist and member of CFWIJ, Beena Sarwar.
“When we report these posts, Facebook and Twitter often respond saying that the posts don’t violate their standards. I understand the need for the importance of freedom of expression and free speech, but social media platforms also need to understand the cultural context.”
The CFWIJ recognize that while online threats might not be seen as physical harm, we are concerned, that often these online trolling may take the form of physical abuse.
“There is often a pattern of such abusive, and inciting, posts with the person posting them showing allegiance to a certain ‘ideology’ that essentially undermines fundamental human rights, especially those related to women, LGBTQ, freedom of expression, choice and religious belief. We can’t eradicate the fascist mentality behind such posts, but we can stop giving them the oxygen to share their views in public forums,” she adds.
The statement said that Sirmed is a clear example of why such campaigns need to be speedily addressed. Her home has been broken into multiple times in the last few years.
Last year, burglars broke into her house and removed digital devices and important documents, leaving behind other valuables. In 2018, she also narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when a gunman opened fire on her car.
The coalition urged the authorities to take this campaign and the threats attached to it seriously. They must ensure that it is not easy for anyone to use misinformation and downright lies to attack and endanger the lives of women journalists.
The Coalition For Women In Journalism is a pioneering global network of support for women journalists that work across several countries.
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