The Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) strongly condemns the break-in and ransacking of the home of journalist and human rights activist Marvi Sirmed in Islamabad.
Sirmed and her family returned home Thursday night to find all content in her house disrupted. Clothes were strewn across the house, some valuables, jewellery, and watches were left lying around while two laptops, a phone, and some travel documents such as newly issued passports of family members were missing.
Sirmed told us that people who broke in seemed most interested in data and documents, especially her files on human rights cases, as well as documents related to Track Two diplomacy initiatives with Afghanistan and India that she had been involved in.
“In Pakistan, it is increasingly clear how journalists are being threatened in innovative ways. Those who cannot be killed are abducted. Those who cannot be abducted or physically harmed and threatened, then their families are threatened. This is one in a series of improvised attacks on Marvi and her family. We want the government to take actions immediately to offer protection to Marvi and all other journalists especially as elections approach,” said Kiran Nazish, the co-founder of CFWIJ.
This is the third time Sirmed has been targeted along with her family, in a similar pattern. This comes amid what seems like an increased crackdown on freedom of speech in Pakistan. Gul Bukhari, another journalist, was recently picked up by unknown men and held for several hours before being released. A few days ago, close to Sirmed’s house, another activist Fiza Hassan’s house had a similar break in with nothing but a laptop stolen. Another member of Hassan’s theatre group Salman Haider was kidnapped last year along with several other bloggers. When the bloggers finally returned, some of them indicated that they had been picked up the country’s intelligence agencies.
Nosheen Abbas the country manager for CFWIJ in Pakistan said the incidents had become uncomfortably frequent.
“It’s now a norm for authorities to harass journalists – we want to create a channel of dialogue and accountability instead of working under constant intimidation. We strongly condemn the constant threat of censorship through harassment and extrajudicial methods by the state and ask that a proper investigation take place into the incident of the break-in that took place at Marvi Sirmed’s house,” said Nosheen Abbas of CFWIJ.
“It’s not just journalists. Progressive activists in Pakistan have long been threatened, harassed and intimidated for going against the security state narrative about the ‘ideology’ of Pakistan. Those who uphold the idea of peace with neighbouring countries, particularly India, are targeted especially and termed as ‘traitors’. Raza Mahmood Khan, a peace activist, has been missing since Dec. 2, 2017. In his case too, his rented room was broken into and the CPU of his laptop taken while he had disappeared,” said Beena Sarwar, a member for the CFWIJ.
“Repeated incidents like the one with Marvi Sirmed must be investigated. The manner this crime was committed is indicative of the recently organised campaign to silence the press. The intelligence agencies in Pakistan have been found involved in such acts in the past. This attempt to further intimidate and silence dissent in the lead up to elections shows how media is under attack. Without a free media there can be no free elections,” said Sara Farid, member of CFWIJ who has recently been forced to live in self-exile, as her husband and our colleague Taha Siddiqui was attacked by armed men in Islamabad, for being vocal against the military establishment.
Freedom of speech is one of the most important components of a democratic society. With an election around the corner, the crackdown on dissent will directly impact Pakistan’s democratic character. The coalition believes that it is the responsibility of the state to quickly investigate these crimes and bring the criminals to justice.