A Statement from CIVICUS forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

The CIVICUS Monitor added Pakistan to its watchlist of countries in early March 2024, following the repression against the opposition, the censorship of journalists and attacks on peaceful protests around the elections.

Elections were held in Pakistan on 8th February 2024. Ahead of the elections, the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said they were disturbed by the “pattern of harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions of leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and their supporters which has continued during the election period.”

Politicians allied with jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan PTI party won the most seats, but no party achieved a simple majority. The election was however mired in controversy and Khan alleged that his PTI party was deprived of a far greater mandate by widespread rigging and the manipulation of results. The PTI party also faced various restrictions ahead of the elections.

On 21st February 2024, two political parties – The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) – reached a formal agreement to form a new coalition government.

On 3rd March 2024, the newly elected National Assembly chose Shehbaz Sharif as the country’s new prime minister. The speaker of the 336-seat lower house of parliament announced at the end of the voting process that Sharif had won 201 votes, surpassing the required 169 votes. His rival, Omar Ayub, the candidate backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, secured 92 votes.

Following the elections, Human Rights Watch called on the new government to adopt an agenda that actively promotes and protects human rights, advances the rule of law, and strengthens democratic institutions.

In recent months, the government has continued to block internet services and social media platforms and arrest and charge journalists. Activists are also being prosecuted, threatened and even killed while the crackdown on protests by the opposition persists. Women’s rights activists at the Aurat March in Islamabad also faced restrictions.



Pakistan suspended mobile internet services across the country on 8th February 2024, election day, just before voting got under way. According to media reports, internet and mobile phone services were shut off just before the polls opened. The internet outage was subsequently confirmed by internet monitoring company Netblocks.

The internet shutdown came despite assurances from the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) that internet services would continue to function normally on election day, and that the government had not issued any directives to shut services down. However, the Interior Ministry said it restricted mobile access due to the deteriorating security situation in the country.

Alp Toker, founder and director of UK-based internet watchdog Netblocks said: “Today’s events mark a huge backslide for democracy in Pakistan.” Toker noted, “Pakistan’s election day internet blackout follows several months of nation-scale network censorship targeting former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party PTI.”

Felicia Antonio, #KeepItOn campaign manager at Access Now working to halt internet shutdowns across the globe, said: “Completely shutting down access to mobile communications on voting day, of all days, is unacceptable – the people of Pakistan need internet access to ensure a free, fair, and inclusive election. Authorities’ decision to sever access to information discredits the integrity of Pakistan’s election.”


On 13th March 2024, a collective of human rights activists and civil society organisations expressed profound concern over the increasing instances of internet shutdowns and social media platform blocking, specifically in the lead up to and following the general elections in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s government blocked open access to X on 17th February 2024 as allegations of rigging during the elections continued to make headlines. The ban was imposed after an elections officer in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Liaqat Ali Chattha, publicly claimed to have allegedly changed election results in his area. It soon went viral on social media. X users in Pakistan are currently using virtual private networks (VPN) to post on the platform.

The groups stated that the complete silence of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is extremely alarming as they have failed to furnish any reasons for its actions and exceeded its mandate to block an entire internet platform.

They call for immediate action to reverse the course of digital censorship in Pakistan including to immediately unblock X in Pakistan, to repeal sections of the law such as Section 37 of PECA that enable censorship and act with transparency on decisions that impact the free use of the internet, including for political and economic purposes.


The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested independent journalist Asad Ali Toor (pictured above) on 25th February 2024, after he was ordered to appear for questioning in connection with an alleged “explicit and malicious” campaign against Supreme Court judges, through his social media platforms. He had been questioned by the FIA two days before, for nearly eight hours.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the FIA refused to allow the journalist’s lawyer Mazari-Hazir or Toor’s two other lawyers to accompany the journalist for questioning, Mazari-Hazir said, adding that the agency subsequently locked its entrance door and turned off the lights of the building. An FIA official then emerged from the building and informed the lawyers of the journalist’s arrest on charges under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.

On 8th March 2024, a court in Islamabad ordered Toor be sent to jail on a 14-day judicial remand pending investigation, following 11 days of detention in the custody of the FIA. He was released from Adiala Jail on 16th March 2024, after an Islamabad trial court approved his bail.

Toor has recently reported critically on the chief justice of Pakistan and the country’s military establishment on YouTube and X, formerly known as Twitter. In January 2024, the FIA cybercrime wing summoned dozens of journalists, including Toor, in relation to the alleged campaign against Supreme Court judges following an order upholding an electoral commission decision barring the party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan from using its cricket bat symbol to identify candidates for the 8th February election. Toor also operates Asad Toor Uncensored, a YouTube channel where he covers political affairs with over 160,000 subscribers.


Imran Riaz Khan, a well-known Pakistani YouTuber and TV anchor, was arrested on 1st March 2024 and placed on judicial remand by the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Lahore. Prior to this, an anti-corruption court had granted him bail in a corruption case.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Khan was apparently arrested in a corruption case on 22nd February, and an anti-corruption court ordered him to be remanded in police custody, pending an investigation. On 1st March 2024, when he appeared in court again, he was granted bail. He was arrested again in a different terrorism case outside the court hours after being released on bail.

In the new case, he is facing anti-terrorism charges for his alleged involvement in an incident at Zaman Park in Lahore, where he is accused of arson and throwing stones at police while they executed arrest warrants for former Prime Minister and PTI founder Imran Khan. He was released on bail on 9th March.

CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Beh Lih Yi said: “The detention of Khan and other outspoken journalists highlights the systematic crackdown on the press. Newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif must end this relentless campaign of intimidation against the media once and for all.”

As previously documented, in 2023, Khan went missing for more than four months. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Imran Riaz Khan in May 2023 for allegedly inciting violence during the clashes between the security forces and the supporters of the opposition PTI party following the arrest of former prime minister Imran Khan. He then disappeared and returned home in September 2023.



On 16th February 2024, Hidayatullah Lohar was assassinated in Nasirabad, his hometown in the Larkana District of the Sindh Province. He was shot dead by an unidentified gunman, part of a group of at least two motorcyclists, while on his way to reach the local school, Golu Gawans, where he taught.

His death has sparked protests in the country, with some accusing the state of involvement because of his activism

Amnesty International called on the authorities to conduct an independent, impartial and prompt investigation into the killing and ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable.

Lohar was a prominent Sindhi activist and an advocate of religious liberty and human rights for the Sindhis. He was well-known for his courageous campaigns on behalf of all the persecuted.

The killing comes following ongoing persecution suffered by Lohar for his activism. For over two years, from April 2017 to May 2019, he was kidnapped and “disappeared” due to his activism. Once he surfaced, Lohar reported that he had been severely tortured; medical complications and signs on his body confirmed it.


In February 2023, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression published a communication they had sent to the government on the case of Lateef Johar Baloch, a human rights defender who advocates against human rights violations in Balochistan, specifically those committed by the Pakistani military, including enforced disappearances.

In September 2015, Baloch sought asylum in Canada as a result of the threats he was facing in relation to his peaceful human rights activities and was granted asylum in January 2016. In the years since, Baloch’s family who remain in Balochistan have reportedly been subjected to repeated acts of harassment and singular attacks by the military.

This includes allegations of arbitrary detention and treatment amounting to torture of his brother; the routinised harassment and intimidation of his father; and the raids on his family’s home with seemingly no legal basis.


In February 2023, Lawyers for Lawyers sent a letter to the authorities in support of Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir, a renowned Pakistan human rights lawyer and defender.

16th February 2024 marked the start of the trial of Imaan Mazari. She was arrested, without an arrest warrant, on 20th August 2023 under the Anti-Terrorism Act for various crimes including sedition and disruption of State affairs, following a public speech she gave two days before. She was granted bail before being rearrested a few hours later on a charge of funding terrorism and then released on bail.

Imaan Mazari is a distinguished human rights lawyer, widely respected for her advocacy on behalf of persecuted religious and ethnic communities, especially on offences perpetrated by the Pakistani military and security forces, and one of the few lawyers representing missing persons in Islamabad.

Lawyers for Lawyers urges the Pakistan authorities to cease the arbitrary investigations into Mazari and other lawyers aimed at impairing their work as human rights lawyers and their right to freedom of expression and to take the necessary steps to prevent such investigations from reoccurring and ensure the free exercise of the legal profession in Pakistan.



The Pakistan authorities continued to crack down on opposition protests around the elections.

On 28th January 2024, police fired tear gas to disperse supporters of the PTI party in the southern city of Karachi. A reporter at the scene saw between 20 and 30 people getting arrested at the rally. Senior police superintendent Sajid Siddozai said workers of the PTI party organised the rally without obtaining permission from authorities and blocked the road.

Police on 24th February 2024 detained dozens of political workers in Karachi who staged protests outside the provincial assembly in the southern Sindh Province against alleged fraud in the general elections. Protesters had gathered in front of the assembly building ahead of the swearing-in of newly elected members. The police also baton-charged the protesters. Sindh’s provincial government invoked Section 144 of the criminal code on 23rd February in anticipation of the protest, citing concerns about security and order.

The police in the Punjab province of Pakistan arrested over 100 supporters of Imran Khan’s party on 3rd March 2024 for staging rallies against alleged rigging of votes during elections. The arrests were made in different parts of the province, most of them in Lahore, where the newly-elected Chief Minister of Punjab, Maryam Nawaz, ordered a crackdown on the protesting PTI supporters. According to a PTI spokesperson, 80 party workers were arrested. Police also baton-charged protesters at GPO Chowk and Liberty Chowk.

On 10th March 2024, the police launched a brutal attack on PTI supporters, arresting more than 100 of its members during countrywide protests over alleged rigging in the general election. As PTI members and supporters rallied, raising slogans against the government and calling for its dismissal in Lahore, multiple videos on social media showed police officers attacking the protesters with sticks and shoving people into police vehicles. One video showed a bearded man holding a PTI flag being dragged out of his car. A large crowd gathered around his vehicle, forcing the police to let the man go. Another video showed a PTI leader being pulled inside a police vehicle as he continued to raise slogans.

In Punjab on the same day, protests were met with heavy-handed measures, resulting in the detention of scores of PTI workers and leaders. Similar arrests were also reported in other cities, including Gujranwala and Multan.

Some PTI leaders and activists have remained in jail for nearly ten months after they were arrested at mass protests in May 2023 and accused of committing multiple offences.


Women’s rights activists condemned actions taken against participants of the ‘Aurat March’ by the Islamabad police on International Women’s Day on 8th March 2024.

According to women’s rights activist Farzana Bari, this was the fifth consecutive year the organisation was denied Non-Objection Certificates (NOCs) and the police obstructed their march. Another activist, Uzma Yaqoob, says that the behaviour of the police will not deter women that come out into the streets to demand equal rights once a year. She also demanded to know who ordered the action against the Aurat March in Islamabad.

A large number of activists and other people took part in the Aurat March and members of the marginalised communities express their achievements and raise their voice against the discrimination, violence and harassment they are subjected to in Pakistan. Their theme this year was ‘resistance’ and ‘hope’. They carried various placards to express solidarity with the citizens of Palestine. They also called for protection against violence against women and enforced disappearances.

Women in Lahore gathered outside the press club and displayed public art pieces. The demonstrators also recited poems written by Habib Jalib and other revolutionaries. In Karachi, women mobilised at Frere Hall and marched to Teen Talwar.

In previous years, there have also been attempts to block or disrupt the Aurat March protests by women human rights activists. In 2019, the organisers received online death and rape threats. In February 2020, a petition was submitted before the Lahore High Court calling for a ban on the Aurat March, which was ultimately unsuccessful. In March 2021, Aurat March organisers in Karachi were threatened online. In 2023, some of the participants were accused of blasphemy.