Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Tuesday (September 8) in Geneva that there are numerous instances of incitement to violence – online and offline – against journalists and human rights defenders in Pakistan, in particular against women and minorities. He added that especially worrying are the accusations of blasphemy – which can put accused individuals at imminent risk of violence.
Pakistani women journalists last month publicly warned of what they described as a “coordinated campaign” of social media attacks against those who have been critical of Government policies.
In one such case, journalist and human rights defender Marvi Sirmed has received numerous messages on social media containing highly derogatory and violent language, including gender-based slurs and death threats.
Accusations of blasphemy on social media were followed by actual police complaints filed against Sirmed, whose personal details were also revealed on Twitter.
#Pakistan: Increasing concern about incitement to violence against journalists & #humanrights defenders, in particular against women & minorities. Especially worrying are accusations of blasphemy. https://t.co/oReYBA3VqS #JournoSafe #PressFreedom #StandUp4HumanRIghts pic.twitter.com/lLhooEoS0w
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) September 8, 2020
Last year, at least four journalists and bloggers were killed in connection with their reporting. Among them was Arooj Iqbal, a woman who was shot dead in Lahore as she sought to launch her own local newspaper.
Last Saturday (September 5), journalist Shaheena Shaheen was shot dead by unidentified men in Balochistan’s Kech district. In the vast majority of such cases, those responsible have not been investigated, prosecuted, and held to account.
“We call on the leadership to unequivocally condemn incitement to violence against religious minorities and what appears to be an increase in the use of blasphemy laws for personal or political score-settling. We call on them to encourage respect for diversity of opinion,” the UN spokesperson said.
He urged the Pakistan Government to address impediments to the active protection of the right to freedom of expression, including by carrying out legal reforms such as those recommended by the UN Human Rights Committee and other international human rights mechanisms.
The UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reviewed Pakistan in 2017.
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