These days attacks on women journalists are on the rise. You! takes a look… Media has always been under attack by undemocratic forces in Pakistan because of various reasons. But journalists have never been targeted for their gender. In the last six months we have seen an alarming increase in attacks (at least ten attacks) on women journalists. These women have not only been singled out because they are women, but the sad thing is that these attackers are supporters of a liberal, progressive party – a party which has been igniting hope in the heart of a large number of people, especially the youth. Imran Khan’s dynamic personality and his zeal was the driving force behind this hope; people flocked to his party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which literally means ‘movement for justice’. Many people saw PTI as the game changer in Pakistan’s politics. The flame of hope that PTI and its leadership had lit in thousands of hearts flickered persons Asma Shirazi and Fareeha Idrees said that they felt extremely insecure and vulnerable while covering PTI’s events. According to Fareeha Idrees, she had never felt insecure, scared, or vulnerable when she was in the tribal areas. Similarly, Asma Shirazi said that she had carried a stick to fend off anyone who threatened her during a PTI rally in Islamabad. Both these senior women journalists were talking to Hamid Mir after the recent attack on anchor/reporter Sana Mirza at Lahore’s rally. Many members of Geo News were attacked in Lahore on December 15, 2014. Geo News reporter Ahmed Faraz narrowly escaped a brick thrown at him earlier in the day but Asim Naseer, cameramen Raja Amir, Khwaja Amir and Shafqat Imran and even senior journalists Sohail Warraich were not so lucky and were roughed up by people in the rally. But the worst attack came by late evening when Geo News anchor/reporter Sana Mirza and reporter Ameen Hafeez were attacked. Sana Mirza was injured by missiles comprising water bottles, bricks, stones, sticks and glass thrown at her from the huge crowd gathering around the Digital Satellite News Gathering (DSNG) van on which she was standing. Despite all that, Sana tried to remain composed and carried on with her reporting, but she was unable to contain the pain and tears streamed down her face. This only seemed to encourage the attackers, who continued to hurl abuse and then hit Ameen Hafiz on the head with a marble using a slingshot. Sana Mirza and the rest of the team took shelter inside the van because they could not leave because of the huge crowd around them. This was the second time Sana Mirza had been experiencing PTI’s wrath; the first incident occurred in Islamabad during the party’s political sit-ins. The attack on Sana has been widely condemned by the journalists’ fraternity and political leaders, including some PTI leaders. And although PTI chief Imran Khan has condemned the attack he has also blamed Geo News in the same sentence for its biased reporting. According to PTI leader Shireen Mazari, who is also PTI’s spokesperson, she as a woman was ashamed of how PTI supporters had acted, strongly condemned these attacks. However, this has not been the first time that the media came under attack in a PTI event. In May 2013, PTI supporters attacked senior journalist Quatrina Hosain and her team when they, on the invitation of PTI party candidate Ghulam Sarwar, went to cover a rally at Wah Cantt. The attack was completely unprovoked. Regarding this incident, Quatrina says, “I was traumatized after this experience and felt uneasy in large crowds for a long time afterwards. I didn’t file an FIR as I didn’t want to make a political issue.” However, she is planning to hold a press conference regarding the attack. Then during August and September 2014, when PTI was boycotting Jang and Geo, women reporters of Geo News were attacked on several occasions. Three women reporters Farhat Jawaid, Amna Amir and Iffat Rizvi were attacked during a PTI event in Islamabad. Amna Amir was abused when she tried to report from the venue of PTI’s sit-in. She was threatened with death if she did not stop covering PTI’s sit-ins. Her attackers told her she was being attacked as she belonged to a channel that their party’s chief criticized and asked them to boycott. The same reason seemed enough to enrage political workers when they attacked Farhat Jawaid, damaging the channel’s van she took refuge in. The attackers took her name and her channel’s name as if it was reason enough for the attack, demanding media personnel trying to shield her to move out of the way. “The last thing I heard before I locked myself inside the DSNG van was ‘set them on fire’. It was the second day of anti-government demonstrations in Islamabad. Tens of thousands of demonstrators have participated in the protests organized by PTI Chairman Imran Khan and the anti-government cleric Tahir ul Qadri led Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT). On the night of August 15, our DSNG was not allowed to be installed. At great personal risk and defying death threats, my colleague Arshad Waheed Chaudhry and I tried to negotiate with the protesters and their leaders but all in vain,” shares Farhat Jawaid.[image] “The crowd began kicking and striking our van with batons and warned us that they would set the DSNG on fire if we did not leave the area within ten minutes. The ferocious mob didn’t let us leave the area either. Finally, we were locked inside, surrounded by hundreds of knock-down-and-drag-out PTI workers. Being a woman, I felt more endangered. They attacked by throwing bottles and batons at me. I had no other option but to hide inside the van they were all ready to set on fire. We were hostage for more than an hour now. At last, we managed to flee the spot,” adds Farhat. The third reporter to be attacked during this time was Geo News Islamabad’s court reporter Iffat Rizvi. She was attacked by PTI supporters and had to run to save her life. She had sought shelter in the Supreme Court building and managed to outrun her pursuers mainly because she was familiar with the building and knew how to dodge them. She was lucky when she met some army personnel who tended to her injuries and escorted her to safety. Even three months later the attacks continued. This time Geo News anchor/reporter Maria Memon was the target of the PTI supporters’ wrath in Faisalabad on December 8, 2014. According to Memon, her team had decided to park in a relatively safe area, which gave them a good view of the crowd and allowed them to report without any interruptions. But they were wrong. Tensions were high after clashes between PTI & PML-N supporters. Soon the crowd started coming towards the van where Maria Memon and the media team were perched on. “First people started using abusive and obscene language, but I ignored this because it has become a trend at such events. But then the attack began when my producer and I were hit by a water bottle and we were soaked; this was followed by a volley of bottles,” informs Maria. “As if this wasn’t enough, the mob threw sticks at me – one hit my legs and another flew a few feet above my head as I sat on the roof of the DSNG van. No one from the team had done or said anything to provoke the attack. I was even properly dressed – as I am usually careful to wear simple clothes so as not to hurt anyone’s sensibilities,” she says. Not all PTI supporters were aggressive there were some who did come to the media team’s aid and helped Maria Memon and her team to safety. Then four days later, the episode was repeated this time in Karachi when Geo News reporters Sidra Dar and Umaima Malik bore the brunt of PTI’s attacks. Regarding the attack Sidra shares, “At first we thought the crowd was just moving out after PTI leader Imran Khan’s speech had ended, but then we realized they were surrounding our van. At first the crowd surrounded the DSNG van, and chanted slogans against the channel. Then came the abuse and obscene language, but we did not react. Then the crowd started to grow and they attacked the van and shook it violently and the abuse continued. “We stayed calm and did nothing to encourage their excited state. That only seemed to make the crowd angrier and they started throwing bottles, some full of water, and stones. One bottle and a stone hit me on the head; fortunately I didn’t get hurt badly. The women were also collecting stones and bottles and handed these to men. Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas was also targeted,” she adds. “The sad part is that no one stopped the attackers and the PTI leaders were nowhere to be seen. The police came after 20 minutes as it was focussed on another area where the crowd was dispersing but it managed to get the team out but only after the attacks intensified. “I have covered many rallies and protests of all parties – MQM, PPP and even religious parties like Jamaat-e-Islami – but I have never experienced anything like this. No one ever attacked me or made me feel uncomfortable,” expresses Sidra. “But this incident will not stop me from going back onto the field again. I am a reporter and I have a job to do.” Another woman journalist Umaima Malik, was also attacked simultaneously by what seemed to be a crowd of PTI supporters. Umaima took refuge inside another DSNG van as attackers tried to pull her out. No one came to her help except for a woman anchor of another channel, Gharidah Farooqi who literally stood between the mob and Umaima. Although Gharidah showed more courage than anyone on the scene, she was lucky enough that the mob didn’t take her up on the challenge and hurt her. According to experts, attacks on media teams are triggered by the constant fiery speeches of leaders. The leaders should be careful of the words they use and not openly incite their supporters to attack anyone. PTI’s leadership has condemned these attacks on media teams and has asked for evidence against the attackers. This is a fair and an extremely responsible statement. But this can only happen if the leaders stop inciting followers. It would be advisable that all political leaders, especially of PTI, to understand that the media is not the enemy. Attacks on media teams are not justifiable in any way and need to stop. 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