Parliamentary Secretary Maleeka Bokhari speaks after the screening of the documentary A Dark Place on Sunday. TV anchor Asma Shirazi and digital rights activist Nighat Dad are also seen. — Photo by Mohammad Asim
Parliamentary Secretary Maleeka Bokhari speaks after the screening of the documentary A Dark Place on Sunday. TV anchor Asma Shirazi and digital rights activist Nighat Dad are also seen. — Photo by Mohammad Asim

ISLAMABAD: ‘Harrassment and threats only strengthened the resolve of women journalists to put truth out there.’

This was the message audience took away from the documentary A Dark Place, screened at Pakistan National Council of Arts (PNCA) on Sunday night.

The film gives a voice to female journalists who have been victims of cyber violence and pays tribute to their resistance. The documentary was the first of such screenings of the annual Human Rights Reel Film Festival hosted by the European Union.

Other partners included the United Nations, 16 EU and UN member states, as well as educational and cultural institutions across Pakistan.

The 10-day Human Rights Reel Film Festival marks 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. The annual international campaign will close on the Human Rights Day on Dec 10, marking the 71st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Documentary screened at PNCA gives a voice to journalists who have been victims of online violence

A Dark Place showcased interviews of women journalists across several countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, Finland, Turkey and Russia, to mention some. Women journalists in these countries complained about being harassed online with rape and death threats. Despite the humiliation and distress, these women were determined that no amount of harassment would limit their freedom of expression.

“I could relate to every incident and case that these women journalists, in the film shown, faced,” anchorperson Asma Shirazi told audience during the panel discussion that followed on ‘Making the Internet a Safe Place for Journalists’.

“I will not portray myself as a victim. They treat women as weak, emotional, sensitive and fragile, but we are stronger than men, taller and stronger than ever,” she said.

Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Maleeka Ali Bokhari, condemned the harassment of women journalists online.

“When we undermine rights of female journalists to speak freely, then we are eliminating half our country,” she said.

Digital rights activist and human rights lawyer Nighat Dad called for improved implementation of harassment safeguards in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016.

The film festival is a presentation of 29 award-winning films and documentaries from around the world on human rights issues such as freedom of expression, gender equality, access to justice, minority rights and the death penalty.

The programme showcases diversity of cultures across, films from many different countries, in a variety of languages, yet all distinctly about human rights.

The festival is introducing films for schoolchildren through a new partnership with ‘Girl Rising’ which intends to move beyond university students.

The festival this year will also include a workshop for Pakistani filmmakers to discuss opportunities and challenges faced by the film industry.

Subsequent screenings will be held in 10 cities of Pakistan, including Faisalabad, Gujrat, Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan, Karachi, Peshawar, Mardan and Quetta at various universities, embassies, Centaurus Cineplex, as well as cultural centres such as Goethe-Institute, and PNCA.

EU Ambassador to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara said that building on past experience, the fifth anniversary of the human rights festival sought to highlight the importance of multilateralism, the universality of human rights and the importance of global cooperation to ensure that protection of human rights and respect for human dignity was a reality for all people everywhere.

“The festival also aims to create cross-cultural understanding and stimulate discussions on global human rights issues with students,” she added.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019