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This article was republished from Media Matters for Democracy.

Media Matters for Democracy expresses solidarity with the women journalists who have called out online violence they face on a regular basis on social media platforms. A statement released by a group of women journalists on 12th August highlights a culture of hateful speech, incitement, harassment, and doxxing that endangers the women journalists and affects their professional and personal lives. The statement specifically highlights online abuse perpetrated by accounts that claim to be the supporters, and some members, of the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf.

Journalists have also highlighted the targeted nature of these comments, aimed specifically at journalists who are critical of the government’s policies, specifically under the current pandemic.

“Online violence is often downplayed by simply being called trolling which does not take into account the violent nature of the threats that these women face for doing their jobs”, said Sadaf Khan, co-founder of Media Matters for Democracy. “Multiple studies that we have conducted last year showed the direct link between online abuse and self-censorship by women journalists, that demonstrates how such attacks directly threaten the freedom of the press”.

In a study conducted last year, MMfD found that 9 out of 10 women journalists say that online violence has an impact on their mental health and that it has an impact on the professional choices they make. At the same time 8 out of 10 women journalists said that they had self-censored fearing online violence. This shows that online violence has a detrimental impact on the freedom of expression of journalists in the country. Press freedom and access to information are a constitutionally guaranteed right in the country and should be protected in the online sphere as well.

We would like to express full support and reiterate the demands put forth by the journalists in their statement and urge the ruling party Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf to make it clear that there is no space for harassment, trolling, and violence in online spaces within its ranks and supporters.

1) Immediately restrain its members from repeatedly targeting women in the media

2) Send out a clear message to all party members, supporters, and followers, to desist from launching these attacks, whether directly or indirectly

3) Hold all such individuals within the government accountable and take action against them

4) The Standing Committees on Human Rights of the upper and lower house of parliament to take notice and hold the government accountable by ensuring they acknowledge, apologize and list the actions they will now take to put an end to such a threatening environment.