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Pakistan union demands government uphold landmark sexual harassment case

This article was originally published on ifj.org on 26 September 2014.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) in strongly condemning a long-running sexual harassment case of a female journalist by an official of the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) and welcomes the successful prosecution of the perpetrator as a victory against the impunity of sexual harassment in the media. The IFJ and PFUJ also urge Pakistan's government to stand firm in the landmark sexual harassment case by rejecting any appeal and upholding the Ombudsman's orders on the matter.

This week the Federal Ombudsman for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace found the Executive Director of AAP, Muhammad Naeem Choudhry, guilty on the account of sexually harassing a female co-worker under the Women Harassment Act in a case that dates back to incidents that began almost 20 years ago. The Ombudsman ordered the imposition of a 'major penalty' wherein the culprit would be demoted by a grade and removed from his present post so that 'taking advantage of his senior position he may not create such an unhealthy environment for other employees in the future'.

Mr Choudhry has filed an appeal against the order from the Ombudsman, which has been admitted by Office of the President of Pakistan. The PFUJ said APP's management are yet to implement the order, instead 'hiding behind the period of appeal' with reports they 'laughed' at the judgement.

The PFUJ said: "It is a matter of concern that the person who has been convicted for harassing his woman colleagues is still in the position. The state should take a serious note and investigate widely to implicate those protecting his acts."

This is not the first time Choudhry has been reported for the same offence. During the hearing the complainant reported that despite her complaints to the managing director of APP and the Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, no action was taken during an eight-month period. Instead, she said that APP management protected Choudhry, encouraging continuous intimidation, threats and coercive messages. The proceedings outlined that the first instance of harassment took place in 1996, but following a complaint was 'hushed up'. In 2012, all of the female journalists and media staff at APP complained to the then Federal Minister about the executive director's behaviour and he was twice removed from his post on charges of sexual harassment against female employees. Both times he escaped punishment.

The IFJ Asia Pacific's Acting Director, Jane Worthington, said: "The environment in which female journalists work in Pakistan is extremely challenging on many fronts and sexual harassment is a major hurdle too many women have to face on a regular basis."

The IFJ said impunity against sexual harassment is a major issue that all media need to take serious - particularly when those violations come from the highest of levels.

"The fact that this case has dragged on for nearly 20 years without redress is disturbing but full credit must go to the complainant and the many women journalists and media staff at APP who challenged the company on its despicable handling of the matter," Jane Worthington said. "We commend all of them on that strength and solidarity. They have given voice to many women who have been denied justice by silence and the social taboo of sexual harassment."

Women journalists in Pakistan are confronted with gender inequality in many forms from social taboos at entering the profession through to sexual harassment, all which serve to hinder their participation and progression. The IFJ, with support of UNESCO is currently undertaking a Research Study on Gender and Media in the Asia Pacific. Pakistan is one of the seven focus countries, which aims to explore the issues facing women in the media and produce recommendations for change.

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