ISLAMABAD: A petition has been filed in the Islamabad High Court (IHC), seeking directives for authorities to take measures against the newspapers and TV channels as well as social media users who disclose identity of rape victims and to ensure compliance of relevant laws regarding non-disclosure in the future.
The petitioners – Sharafat Ali Chaudhry and Umer Sajjad – have nominated as respondents secretaries of the Ministry of Information and Interior, chief secretaries of the four provinces and chairmen of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
The petitioners submit that they have approached the court in public interest to question the effectiveness and efficient response of the respondents for implementation of the law with regard to protection and non-disclosure of the identity of a victim of rape.
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They argue that disclosure of identities of rape and murder victims being done currently by some TV channels, newspapers and social media sites is against the law and the matter and is directly linked with the fundamental rights of the people guaranteed under the Constitution.
According to the petition, reports circulated by some newspapers, TV channels and social media were not in consonance with the law, the media code of conduct and social morality. The TV channels and social media users violate the law and disclose identities of victims of rape, sexual abuse, kidnapping or murder.
The petition says that despite this violation, the respondents have remained inactive and inefficient and have failed to discharge their statutory obligations to stop illegal practice of disclosing the identity of victims of rape.
Of victims and perpetrators
It requests the court to inquire the respondents as to why no action is being taken against those who violate the law.
The petition argues that disclosure of victims’ identity exposes them to secondary victimisation through stigma and makes them suffer psychological and emotional loss.
“The media coverage can be helpful, but if it is done in an insensitive and uncaring manner, it can compound victim and his/her family’s emotional and psychological suffering,” says Chaudhry, one of the petitioners.
Laws regarding disclosure
According to the petitioners, disclosure of the victims’ identity is barred and criminalised through Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2016. As per sections 354, 376, 376A, 377 and 377B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), whoever prints or publishes name or any matter which may make known identity of the victim of an offence, commits a cognisable offence punishable under 376 A of PPC.
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The petition states, “The disclosure of identity of such victim are provided under subsection (2) of section 376 A of PPC, with the permission of the victim, parent, guardian or the court.
“Further section 8 of the Electronic Media (Programmes and Advertisements) Code of Conduct, 2015, provides that the TV channels shall ensure that extreme caution shall be exercised in handling themes, plots or scenes that depict sexual offence and violence, including rape and other sexual assaults.
“Subsection 6 of the section 8 provides that identity of any victim of rape, sexual abuse, terrorism or kidnapping or such victim’s family shall not be revealed without prior permission of the victim or victim’s guardian where victim is a minor.”
The petitioner have requested the court that the Ministry of Information, the PTA and PEMRA may be directed to take measures against the newspapers, TV channels and social media users who violate the law, ensuring that they do not disclose identity of victim of rape, except as provided under law.
They have further requested the court that the ministry of interior and chief secretaries may be directed to take action under section 376-A of PPC against those individuals, groups or entities who violate the law, and also to take measures to create awareness among public that disclosure of identity of victims of rape is a cognisable offence.