Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is urging Pakistan's government to “disown” a "hate and defamation campaign" against two British media outlets and to prosecute those who have threatened their journalists.
Over the past two weeks, thousands of Internet users have called for the boycott of the Urdu-language services of the BBC and The Independent and threatened their journalists, the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on January 14.
“These online hate campaigns, orchestrated by trolls at the military high command’s behest, not only threaten press freedom but are also extremely dangerous for the journalists who are the targets of the death threats,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Calling for journalists to be murdered, with the aim of intimidating and silencing anyone critical of the authorities, is completely unacceptable,” he added.
Pakistan is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
Media watchdogs in Pakistan and abroad say Pakistani media and journalists have faced increased threats and harassment since the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan took office in 2018 following elections tainted by allegations of manipulation by the military. Khan has rejected the accusations.
According to RSF, a video posted on January 2 on Siasat.pk, a website that supports Pakistan’s ruling party and the military, "attacks the 'personal opinions and political inclinations' of BBC Urdu’s journalists," and "accuses the BBC of pursuing an editorial policy that is 'against the army and the government'."
The video was shared by thousands of people on social media, while the identities, jobs, and Twitter account details of 10 BBC Urdu journalists were posted online.
“Analysis of the comments indicates that this campaign is being orchestrated in reprisal for several editorials and op-ed pieces regarded as overly critical of the authorities,” RSF said.
The staff of The Independent’s Urdu-language news site were also targeted by a "hate campaign," according to RSF, with thousands of Internet users calling for the site to be banned.
It said threats were made against Pakistani journalists working for the outlet in late December after its Urdu website posted a story about the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in a helicopter crash.
The journalists “were criticized for not referring to the dead soldiers as 'martyrs' – the term that the Pakistani armed forces try to impose in such cases,” RSF said.