Islamabad: While Facebook was removing more than 100 pages linked to the Inter-Services Public Relations, the ISI media cell in Pakistan, Pakistani journalist Marvi Sirmed, an executive member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was receiving death threats via the same Facebook. And not by an unknown troll, but through an account with name and surname, inciting people to kill her, along with other members of a “mafia of godless liberals” for committing an act against Islam.
“It started on March 28,” Mrs. Sirmed says “when I reported to FB management an account issuing death threats against me for the past three days. FB very kindly took it down. But since then, two more accounts have popped up with exactly the same message, using my pictures stolen from my private FB album. One of them is an office holder of PTI’s student wing, ISF. On his Facebook wall, he has multiple pictures of him with PM Imran Khan, Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Finance Minister Asad Umar, among other PTI leaders.”
The account which first posted the story on Facebook belonged to Saqib Hussain. This fellow concocted a disgusting story of incest and sexual intercourse. Based on that story, he incited people to kill her. Strangely enough, the same guy used on his posts pictures stolen from Mrs.Sirmed’s private uploads on Facebook. On this post, a journalist named Mian Ghaffar, who reportedly works for Daily Khabrain, encouraged him and offered her personal information: address, ID card numbers and other personal details.
Within a couple of hours of multiple complaints by many people about Saqib Hussain’s threatening post, Facebook’s management took down the profile. But the day after, Marvi Sirmed found two more accounts popping up on Twitter using the exact same post with her pictures, with the same public request to help them kill her.
One of these two accounts belongs to Mr. Mohammadzada Agra, who on his FB page claims to be the office holder of Insaf Student Federation (ISF), which is PTI’s student wing. Mr. Agra has many photos on his page in which he is seen sitting, standing, walking and talking quite closely to not only Prime Minister Imran Khan, but also to the Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and Finance Minister Asad Umar, among other PTI prominent leaders. The other account is named “UNews LiveTV”, which the page claims is owned by some Yaseen Chatha who is also a self-proclaimed journalist.
Mrs. Sirmed registered a complaint with the FIA, but the Agency did not even acknowledge the facts. It is not the first time Marvi Sirmed is targeted by ‘unknown’ or even too well-known criminals in disguise. Her house was ransacked twice by ‘unidentified’ men, in 2011 and in 2018. Strangely enough, the ‘burglars’ did not take any valuables from the house, only her laptop, passports and mobile phones. Twice, in 2012 and 2018, Mrs. Sirmed narrowly escaped an attempted to her life when the usual ‘unidentified’ man opened fire at her car.
The Coalition for Women in Journalism immediately condemned the campaign against Mrs. Sirmed stating that “the online campaigns against women journalists are reaching unprecedented capacity” and calling on the Government of Pakistan to ensure the safety of women journalists. But of course, when a member of the ruling party is involved in a hate campaign on social media and is inciting people to kill a journalist whose fault is only doing her job, there are not so many chances of being listened.
The situation for members of the press and human rights activists in the country is worsening every day: they are silenced and threatened on a regular base and the few who still try to raise a free and unbiased voice are viciously targeted: murder attempts, kidnapping, enforced disappearances, threatens issued by the same members of police who are supposed to protect citizens are now the new normality in Pakistan.
The list of the journalists forced to leave the country gets longer every day and they are not anymore completely safe even abroad. A couple of them have been recently advised by local intelligence agencies to stay away from places where Pakistanis gather. Because the hate campaigns, spiced with fake news and fake information, unfortunately, reach every corner of the planet.
Whoever raises his/her voice is called ‘traitor’ or ‘infidel’, and there’s always some misguided idiot ready to pick up the job of silencing the ‘traitor’.
These past few years, and the past months in particular, of so-called democracy, are turning Pakistan into something worst than dictatorship: enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, death threats, a free hand to terrorists are daily reported all over the country and the number of those harassed in some way rise every day. If this is the Naya Pakistan Imran Khan has been boasting so much, well: it looks scary.