Federal ministers and special assistant of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet joined hundreds of thousands of ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party activists on Twitter to hound award-winning journalist Asma Shirazi for her latest weekly article in BBC Urdu.
“The latest attack manifests this government’s increasing disbelief in press freedom in the country and warrants a serious reprimand to stop it from completely taking journalism out of Pakistan,” media watchdog Freedom Network [FN] said in its Press Freedom Alert on 25 October 2021.
These ministers minced no words to harass Asma Shirazi hours after her weekly column in BBC Urdu was uploaded on 19 October 2021, the alert said
“The government may have opted more civilized way to challenge content the journalist produced by taking a legal course if it wished so. These tweets and press conference by one of the prime minister’s special assistants clearly messaged that no criticism of this government will be tolerated,” FN alert said.
Asma Shirazi had won Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in 2014. Her article which drew unwarranted criticism from the government nowhere named the prime minister or the First Lady.
This frontal attack comes months after global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) put Prime Minister Imran Khan on list of “press freedom predator” along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid of Bangladesh.
The government believed Asma Shirazi targeted Prime Minister Imran Khan and the First Lady in her latest BBC article.
The federal ministers also hit BBC Urdu for allowing her the platform to what they claim “target” the ruing Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
“Asma bibi, better you join (opposition) PML-N (party),” Federal Minister for Commerce Hammad Azhar tweeted to condemn the journalist for her apparent reference to the prime minister and her spouse.
Special Assistant PM Khan on Political Communication Dr Shahbaz Gill addressed a special press conference to come hard on the woman journalist. “If you dislike the prime minister’s family, you can hold a grudge against them, but there are ethical limits,” Dr Gill told the news conference telecast live on private TV channels on Thursday – 21 October 2021 – and state-run Pakistan Television without explaining where the journalist was “unethical.”
Asma’s article was centered around the poor state of the country’s economy and she held the government accountable without naming the prime minister or the First Lady arguing the economy could not be fixed with “slaughtering goats” or “spelling the blood of pigeons.”
“Did you read my article? You must read it,” she said while reacting to the government-led trolling.
Federal Minister for Human Rights Ms Shireen Mazari was another minister to even refer to BBC Urdu as “Bharat (Indian) Broadcasting Corporation” while taking on Asma Shirazi in her tweet.
Pakistan is ranked 145th position out of 180 countries in RSF Global Press Freedom Index 2021. The country slipped six points down since the PM Khan took power in August 2018.