Trolls in Pakistan: A woman journalist is harassed online

In this video, Pakistani media Lok Sujag zooms in on the experience of a female journalist who sought truth and transparency, and was met instead with misogynistic mocking, abuse, and harassment on social media. As she asked questions about the reliability of government reports on Covid, some parliamentarians used her own private pictures to bait and unleash an army of bashers her way.

Sujag is a multi-media digital platform based in Pakistan. It is focused on issues and communities that have been marginalized in the mainstream discourse and aims at helping the marginalized and the oppressed to articulate their demands and make those demands heard within the power corridors.

Background: Covid-19 in Pakistan

A returning passenger from Iran was Pakistan’s first Covid-19 patient. His case, first reported in late February 2020, caused widespread alarm, as Iran is a popular destination for religious pilgrimage for many Pakistanis.

China, where Covid-19 first emerged, also shares a border with Pakistan. Thousands of people travel between the two countries each year for educational, commercial, touristic and other purposes. Pakistan, therefore, closed its borders with China immediately after the breakout of the disease, and suspended all travel between the two countries.

No such restrictions, however, were imposed on travel to and from other Corona-infested regions such as the United States, Europe, and the Arab states, where millions of Pakistanis live and work. Within a month of detecting its first patient, Pakistan started recording 200 confirmed carriers of Covid-19 every day.

Actual numbers must have been higher, as testing capacity at that particular time was extremely low.

The coronavirus also caused political discord between the federal ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI), and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which rules the province of Sindh where most of the early Covid-19 cases were detected. The latter wanted a complete lock down, noting Pakistan’s weak health infrastructure. On the other hand, the ruling party feared that a strict lockdown would severely damage the economy.

As in many battles, truth and access to information became a casualty. It became very difficult to secure verifiable data. Media, meanwhile, became a target of organized troll armies supportive of – and likely sponsored by — the federal government.

By late March, educational institutions, government and private offices, restaurants and marriage halls and air, road and rail traffic were all shut down. Shops and markets were also told to implement social distance and other precautions and to shutter before sunset. The government also established a National Command and Control Centre (NCOC) in Islamabad for collecting and disseminating information nationwide. 

This system made it easy for the government to centralize and streamline data gathering and distribution but this also made it very difficult for journalists to obtain information from the ground. Government would only clear aggregated statistics, making it difficult to have a finer understanding of the situations at the local levels.

And then, without offering any data in the support of its decision, the government lifted the lockdown in mid-May even as Covid-19 cases continued to surge. By June, Pakistan was seeing 7000 new confirmed cases per day. And then the rise seemed to slow in late July – though it remains unclear why. Again, the lack of data in the public domain remains a troubling reality.

By late October, the total number of patients in Pakistan was nearing 330,000 of which nearly 310,000 had recovered. More than 6,600 people had died, according to official estimates.

Covid-19 Asia: Rights Repressed

In the Asia Rights Repressed Journalism Series, six media outlets from Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Cambodia and the Philippines document how Covid is being used to repress political, social and economic rights, affecting in particular, the most vulnerable.

Covid-19 Asia:
Rights Repressed

In the Asia Rights Repressed Journalism Series, six media outlets from Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Cambodia and the Philippines document how Covid is being used to repress political, social and economic rights, affecting in particular, the most vulnerable.

Covid-19 Asia: Rights Repressed

In the Asia Rights Repressed Journalism Series, six media outlets from Nepal, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Cambodia and the Philippines document how Covid is being used to repress political, social and economic rights, affecting in particular, the most vulnerable.