RAISING concerns over threats to journalists and human rights defenders, especially women, a top UN body has called on Pakistan to unequivocally condemn violence against religious minorities and “encourage respect for diversity of opinion”.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in Geneva on Tuesday (8) that it was following with “increasing concern” numerous instances of incitement to violence — online and offline — against journalists and rights activists in Pakistan.
“Especially worrying are accusations of blasphemy — which can put accused individuals at imminent risk of violence,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN human rights body.
His statement urged Pakistan’s leadership to 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”.
Four journalists and bloggers were killed in connection with their reporting, Colville noted. Among them was Arooj Iqbal, a woman who was shot dead in Lahore as she sought to launch her own local newspaper.
This month, journalist Shaheena Shaheen was shot dead by unidentified men in Balochistan’s Kech district.
Colville said the UN High Commissioner’s office had raised concerns directly with the Pakistan government and “we have urged immediate, concrete steps to ensure the protection of journalists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to threats”.
“We also stress the need for prompt, effective, thorough and impartial investigations with a view to ensuring accountability in cases of violence and killings,” he said, adding that victims and their families have the right to justice, truth and reparations.
The UN agency encouraged 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.
Colville noted that 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 the vast majority of such cases, those responsible have not been investigated, prosecuted and held to account,” he pointed out.