The statement issued by Pakistani women journalists and activists, where they demanded that the government take action against a “coordinated campaign” to attack them on social media has prompted a discussion about cyber abuse and harassment. The government has responded with mixed reactions, with PTI Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari saying she was “disturbed” to learn of women journalists being targeted but adding that no one party was to blame for the abuse. Senior ruling party member Asad Umar, while condemning attacks against female journalists, also spoke against “labelling those who call out your fake news as abusers”.

The government should not get defensive about this statement and treat the statement as a human rights and cybercrime issue. It cannot be denied that the political environment on social media is one which unfortunately is habitual of abuse, personal attacks and harassment, and women face the worst brunt of these attacks. Some of the issues that the statement detailed included doxing, which is leaking of personal details, calling women gendered insults and threats of sexual and physical violence on their social media timelines. In some cases, women’s photographs are photoshopped into inappropriate or obscene imagery and circulated to humiliate them.

While it may be true that some parties’ supporters may engage in this abuse more frequently than others, this sort of harassment occurs against every woman, from any side of the political aisle, who is outspoken on social media. It also draws attention for the need to formulate a new policy towards cybercrime and social media abuse, which is so fast-evolving that our cybercrime laws often don’t cover this. This issue should not be politicised—the government needs to work upon laws which protect journalists and activists on social media from criminal acts like doxing and violation of privacy and dignity. It is of the utmost importance that these measures be made without being political and while balancing freedom of speech principles.