ISLAMABAD: Women journalists should provide proof of alleged harassment, human rights minister Shireen Mazari said Tuesday during a session of the National Assembly's Standing Committee on Human Rights chaired by PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
Mazari's comments came after a number of leading Pakistani women reporters and commentators accused Twitter accounts affiliated with the ruling PTI of harassment and abuse.
The women journalists who originally raised the issues they reportedly face on a daily basis apprised the meeting's participants of the alleged attacks through video link.
Bilawal, the committee's chairperson, read out the joint statement by the women journalists and commentators, wherein they had called to attention what they termed was a "well-defined and coordinated campaign", in which the "personal details of women journalists and analysts have been made public".
In her remarks, the federal minister said she too was a victim of such acts. "My daughter and I are also going through the ordeal of harassment," she said.
Noting that “all women face these challenges”, she said no women in any field should be treated in this manner.
'Action will be taken'
Mazari said the ruling party condemned such acts. "On behalf of the PTI, I condemn the harassment of women journalists," she said.
"There should be no abusive language on social media," she added.
The minister informed the committee that she had spoken to the PTI's official social media team and "they told me they do not engage in harassment".
"If anyone has proof, we will take action. Those who harass others using the PTI's name should be identified," she added.
"If someone believes any PTI account is engaged in harassment, they should point it out. Action will be taken against any PTI account engaging in harassment," she vowed.
Political leaders should warn workers
Speaking further on the harassment of journalists, especially women, the federal minister said all political parties must take steps in this regard and that the PTI was ready to do so.
"The leaders [of political parties] need to warn their political workers not to harass anyone," Mazari stated.
Expanding upon their viewpoints and experiences, the women journalists apprised the committee of the “vicious attacks", as well as "coordinated campaigns” against them, that made it challenging for them to carry out their work-related responsibilities.
Journalist's home 'broken into'
Anchorperson Asma Shirazi, one of the signatories of the statement, claimed the women journalists were being harassed for their "difference of opinion”.
"Twice, people have broken into my house to harass me. I don't know if the PTI's media cell or anyone else is involved in this harassment," Shirazi alleged.
"If we tweet, the comments that come below it are indescribable," she added.
Personal pictures 'morphed'
Analyst Reema Omer, the legal advisor for South Asia at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), said the harassment of women online was "an undeniable and painful truth".
"There have been instances where pictures with my husband were doctored to add images of [Indian spy] Kulbhushan Jadhav," Omer claimed.
"Erroneous news reports cannot be a justification for harassment," she added.
'Campaign launched against me'
Journalist and anchorperson Gharidah Farooqi alleged that numerous groups — including the ruling party — "keep unofficial accounts for harassment".
"A campaign was launched against me, making it difficult for me to step out of the house," Farooqi claimed.
"We cannot meet anyone to interview them or get news from them."
While the women journalists were speaking of their experiences, PTI lawmaker from Karachi, MNA Ataullah, interrupted, saying he should be allowed to speak as well.
To which, the committee chairperson Bilawal advised him to let the women journalists speak first. "You will also have an opportunity to speak," he told the PTI lawmaker.
"There is no restriction on talking; we can sit here for two days. But it's important to listen to these women journalists who have travelled here to talk" about their experiences, the PPP leader said, adding that views from the committee members would also be sought afterwards.
'No acknowledgement of role of govt officials'
Speaking to The News, Omer, the politico-legal analyst, said it was "appreciable that Dr Mazari unconditionally condemned abuse against women in media".
"However, it’s unfortunate that there was no acknowledgement of the role of government officials — including ministers and special assistants — in instigating (directly or indirectly) such harassment and abuse," she alleged.
In the case of women, that harassment "is often gendered and of a sexual nature", she added.
Omer accused government officials of discrediting journalists by claiming they "work on an 'agenda', that their 'bias is well-known' or imply they take money for their views". She claimed this made reporters and commentators "even more vulnerable to attacks".
"It marks certain commentators and gives a message to government followers and supporters that targeting them is acceptable — even encouraged," she claimed.
"Unless this link is understood, there can be no effective response to the grievances shared by women in the media," she added.