KARACHI: A four-month investigation titled ‘Human Rights Under Surveillance: Digital Threats Against Human Rights Defenders in Pakistan’ conducted by Amnesty International (AI) has revealed that human rights defenders in Pakistan are targeted via digital attacks, hacking of social media accounts and computers, and their mobile phones are deliberately attacked with spyware.
AI Global Issues Director Sherif Elsayed-Ali said, “We uncovered an elaborate network of attackers who are using sophisticated and sinister methods to target human rights activists. Attackers use cleverly designed fake profiles to lure activists and then attack their electronic devices with spyware, exposing them to surveillance and fraud and even compromising their physical safety.”
AI’s investigation report outlined how attackers make use of Google and Facebook login pages to get passwords of their victims.
The director added, “It is already extremely dangerous to be a human rights defender in Pakistan and it is alarming to see how attacks on their work are moving online.”
The report dwelled on the cases of Diep Saeeda and Raza Mehmood Khan.
The investigation showed how attackers used fake Facebook and Google login pages to trick their victims into revealing their passwords. “It is already extremely dangerous to be a human rights defender in Pakistan and it is alarming to see how attacks on their work are moving online,” he said.
The report highlighted the case of Diep Saeeda, a prominent civil society activist from Lahore. On December 2, 2017, one of her friends, Raza Mehmood Khan, a peace activist who tried to bring people from India and Pakistan together through activities like letter-writing, was subjected to an enforced disappearance.
“I am scared every time I open an email and it’s getting so bad that I am actually not able to carry out my work — my social work is suffering,” Diep Saeeda told Amnesty.
Sherif Elsayed-Ali also said, “As an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, Pakistan has a responsibility to uphold the highest international standards. It has repeatedly vowed to protect human rights activists and criminalise enforced disappearances, but what we are seeing shows they have done nothing on this front while the situation is getting worse.”
“Pakistani authorities must immediately order an independent and effective investigation into these attacks, and ensure that human rights defenders are protected both online and off,” AI’s global issues director added.