PTI leaders have called for protests outside the residence of journalists in Islamabad. The government had earlier launched a crackdown on social media activists believed to have been involved in a smear propaganda campaign against national institutions, especially the military under the draconian PECA law.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday said that ensuring the safety of journalists was a responsibility of the State. He directed the police to ensure their safety.
Within minutes of the Prime Minister’s statement, PML leader Maryam Aurangzeb contacted IG Islamabad Ahsan Younis to convey the Prime Minister’s words.
Aurangzeb said she condemned fascist and authoritarian attitudes against journalists and asked the Inspector General of Islamabad police to personally look into the matter of the safety of journalists, especially after PTI leaders and supporters called for protests at the residences of some Islamabad-based journalists.
Earlier in the day, Amnesty International urged Pakistan to immediately release eight people recently arrested for “criticizing the state” on Twitter.
Batting for the freedom of expression, Dinushika Dissanayake, the human rights organisation’s director for South Asia, that “The Pakistani authorities must stop using the draconian Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) to punish people who are simply exercising their right to freedom of expression online.”
“For far too long, successive governments have used this law as a tool to crush peaceful dissent and intimidate supporters of political opposition,” the Amnesty official said. “Nobody should be arrested merely for expressing their views — whether online or offline.”
Dissanayake believed that in the past, governments had used the law as a tool to crush peaceful dissent and intimidate supporters of political opposition.
Dissanayake called for the government to immediately and unconditionally release the eight people arrested across Punjab. Instead of quashing dissenting voices, the authorities should end their “repressive crackdown” on the right to freedom of expression.
Crackdown on social media activists
On 13 April, Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency arrested eight people across the state of Punjab after they criticised the Imran Khan led government on Twitter. The arrests came after the FIA launched a crackdown on social media activists that the agency believes were involved in a smear campaign against state institutions.
Launching its crackdown on social media activists, the FIA had said it that it believed they were involved in a smear propaganda campaign against national institutions, especially the military.
The FIA has told the media that the arrests are not related to any political opposition parties.
On 9 April, Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister of the country after a vote of no-confidence in the Pakistani parliament. His exit came just days after he tried to block the vote from taking place — an effort that was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, allege that their removal was a result of collusion between the United States and the opposition, prompting nationwide protests from his supporters. The party’s social media team has since launched a campaign on Twitter that seeks to condemn the army, the courts, the media and the country’s new leadership.
In fact, Imran Khan made a special mention of his grouse against the media during his address to the people of Pakistan on the eve of his removal from office.
PTI supporters harass reporters
Earlier on Saturday, several journalists, including women, were abused and harassed by PTI supporters during Imran Khan’s rally in Karachi.
Zam Zam Saeed, a female reporter with Samaa TV, uploaded footage of the incident on her Twitter account. She said that PTI workers were violent and they abused the TV crew.
Another journalist, Adia Naz who works for the news channel 24, was also harassed. PTI has singled out 24 for being inimical to the party and its leader. The channel’s licence and permission for transmission were revoked by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority in 2021
Rizwan Bhatti, an office bearer of the Karachi Press Club, confirmed the mishandling of the reporter while they were doing their work.
PTI workers also taunted and harassed Chand Nawab, an ARY TV journalist. He ended up with a torn shirt.
Union steps in
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) has condemned threats to journalists, besides planned protests by PTI workers outside their homes.
PFUJ President Shahzada Zulfiqar and Secretary-General Nasir Zaidi said that it was unfortunate that PTI is suppressing and threatening journalists to drag them into controversy.
“Arranging protest at the residences of journalists is a sign of disrespect to the privacy and respect of the families,” they said.
The PFUJ leaders called upon the chairman of PTI, Imran Khan to direct his workers to respect the private lives of the media persons, besides respecting freedom of speech and dissent. “Respecting freedom of press and speech is a beauty of democracy and democratic norms,” the union said in a statement.