Women around the world face online abuse, but in Pakistan, with its entrenched culture of discrimination and violence against women, the threats are not idle. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, about 500 Pakistani women are killed each year by family members who believe their honor has been damaged if a female relative refuses an arranged marriage, socializes with men or even claps and sings at a wedding.
In a country where 33 million people use Facebook and at least five million are on Twitter, social media has become a frequent platform for obscene and virulent outbursts. In some cases, online abuse has incited physical violence.
“Instead of responding to my accusations or proving that I am wrong, people are saying throw acid on me?” Ms. Wazir said in a telephone interview. “I can’t believe they have fallen to this level, but it is just part of a larger culture encouraged by the society and political parties here.”
Ms. Wazir said she was afraid to publicly share the objectionable text messages out of fear of further antagonizing Mr. Khan’s followers. But she said she was prepared to present the messages to a judge or an investigating authority on the condition that they remain confidential.
Maria Waqar, an Indiana University graduate student who has interviewed dozens of female lawmakers in Pakistan for her research on the legislature, said the abuse directed at Ms. Wazir was not surprising. She said that “the web is littered with websites, videos and message boards dedicated to objectifying and degrading women parliamentarians in particular and women in general.”
In a survey of women in 17 Pakistani universities, published by the Digital Rights Foundation in May, 34 percent said they had experienced online harassment and abuse. The actions included cyberstalking, bullying, and the leaking and manipulation of personal information and pictures.
Many women reported threats of physical violence and vandalism, blackmail, sexual remarks and false accusations meant to humiliate, threaten or discredit them. Seventy percent of the women surveyed said they were afraid to post their pictures on social media websites.