PAKISTAN: A senior female broadcaster is pressured to keep quiet about being sexually harassed at a major TV news station


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-112-2009
ISSUES: Caste-based discrimination, Sexual violence, Women's rights,

Dear friends, 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that a senior anchorperson at Dunya TV News is being pressured to keep silent about being sexually harassed by the company’s managing director. After the news director and chief executive officer (CEO) of the company were informed the journalist started to experience serious professional setbacks, and though internal investigation committees were set up (after her resignation), these appear to have been intentionally delayed. There are concerns that the power of the media house explains the lack of action by civil and political groups, including the National Press Club, in the case so far. The victim currently faces two defamation suits. The case is timely, since a proposal to increase the punishment for sexual harassment in the workplace is pending in Parliament. 


Ms. Maheen Usmani was a senior anchorperson at Dunya TV News, a private television channel in Islamabad. On 11 May 2009 she received two late-night calls from the channel’s managing director, Mr. Yusuf Baig Mirza. He allegedly asked Ms. Usmani to confirm her cell number and made inappropriate comments on her appearance, before offering her certain favours and reimbursements if she were to keep in touch with him on his personal number. According to the victim’s later letter to the Director of Human Resources of Dunya News after the event, Mirza’s speech was ‘suggestive’ and loaded with innuendoes. 

Usmani reported the matter to the Director of News (DN), who assured her that it would not happen again and guaranteed an apology from Mirza. However the DN left his job soon afterward and this never happened. The CEO, Mr. Mian Amer Mahmood (former Nazim or Mayor of Lahore city) was also told about the incident, yet did nothing. Instead Usmani found herself increasingly marginalised in the studio; Mirza withheld a special report she prepared, removed her from her lead production role in a popular weekly program and intervened to prevent the program’s broadcast on several occasions. 

Usmani tendered her resignation on 15 June citing the ‘continued harassment, coercion and highly unethical conduct of the top management of Dunya News’. 

The management quickly formed a Harassment and Gender Equality Committee to investigate her complaint, yet it was made mostly of junior staff who reported to Mirza. The Director of Current Affairs (Ms. Nasim Zehra) and head of the committee tried unsuccessfully to get colleagues to sign a petition, barring Usmani from the office for ‘hurt(ing) the sentiments of the Dunya team’. The committee has since made little progress. 

An inquiry by the National Press Club (NPC) has been exposed as similarly lacking: the club claims that delays are due to the accused’s unwillingness to appear before the committee. It is more likely that top-level stakeholders are involved in stalling the proceedings. Usmani has had two defamation suits filed against her by Mirza, who, according to past colleagues has a reputation for harassment in the industry. She has been approached with offers of money and jobs in return for dropping the matter. At least one of her former news colleagues, Zehra, has made public statements suggesting that her open pursuit of the issue is irresponsible. 


Women are commonly victim to sexual harassment in work places across Pakistan. A few years ago 80% of women polled had experienced it. 

According to the secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, although newspapers and broadcast houses have gender policies on paper, few are enacted, and most cases of abuse are not reported due to social pressure. Victims are often from underprivileged backgrounds and put up with abuse for fear of losing their jobs, and ambitious women will endure impolite behavior from their male superiors to get ahead. On the rare occasion that a victim speaks out, she tends to be pressured into silence. This has only led to a sense of impunity among harassment prone men in senior positions. 

In Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), it is stated that ‘whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman in words, gesture or act … shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or fine, or with both’. On 5 August 2009 the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice proposed an amendment that would extend the punishment to three years. At present the proposal is awaiting approval from the Parliament. The punishment will apply to sexual advances, demands for sexual favours and any written, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which annoys, insults, intimidates or threatens a person at the workplace. 

The AHRC is encouraged by this and urges members of parliament to seriously consider the proposal at its next meeting; sexual harassment must be strongly discouraged and the most effective first step will be to establish it as a crime in civil society by responding to it with serious legal punishment. 


Please write to the following authorities calling for an immediate and impartial inquiry into Ms. Maheen Usmani’s report. Please also express concern for the prevalent problem of sexual harassment at work in Pakistan and demand that the government start to implement proper legislation to protect the rights of women. 

Please be informed that the AHRC is writing a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, requesting intervention in this case. 

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear __________, 

Re: PAKISTAN: A senior female broadcaster is pressured to keep quiet about being sexually harassed at a major news station 

Name of victim: 
Ms. Maheen Usmani; senior journalist of Dunya TV News. 
Names of perpetrators: 
1. Mr. Yusuf Baig Mirza; Managing Director of Dunya TV News. 
2. Mr. Mian Amer Mahmood; Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Dunya TV News. 
3. Ms. Nasim Zehra; Director Current Affairs of Dunya TV News. 

Place of incident: Islamabad. 
Date of incident: 11 May 2009 to the present. 

I am writing to express my concern over the situation of Ms. Maheen Usmani, a senior broadcaster at Dunya TV News, whose complaints of sexual harassment against a superior are not being adequately addressed within or outside of her former firm. She has suffered continual pressure to drop the charge – including bribery and decisions from superiors that damaged her career resulting in her resignation – and is now facing defamation charges. 

I call the competency of the internal investigation into question, since little has been concluded four months. I also question the will and integrity of the National Press Club (NPC). The club claims that delays in its investigation are due to the accused’s unwillingness to appear before the committee. It is more likely that top-level stakeholders are involved in stalling the proceedings. 

It should be noted that the perpetrator has an alleged history of harassment in previous workplaces, according to former colleagues. 

I am aware that in Pakistan, women are common victims of sexual harassment at their work place and that they face strong social pressure to accept the abuse. Many victims choose to remain silent for fear of reprisals and are afforded little legal protection. 

However I am encouraged by the recent proposal of the National Assembly’s Standing Committee’s to increase the punishment for perpetrators of sexual harassment at work, and urge members of parliament to seriously consider the proposal at its next meeting. 

I remain deeply concerned about the inconclusive investigations over the harassment suffered by Ms. Usmani at Dunya News, and about the pressure that may be being exerted by the media house in this case. I therefore ask that the government of Pakistan launch an immediate inquiry into the victim’s allegations, and to ensure that Usmani does not come to any more harm for courageously reporting on a crime that does untold damage to the Pakistani work environment. 

Sexual harassment must be strongly discouraged. The most effective first step will be to establish it as a crime in civil society by responding to perpetrators with strong legal action. 

Yours sincerely, 


1. Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani 
Prime minister of Pakistan 
Prime Minister House 
Fax: + 92 51 9221596 

2. Mr. Syed Masood Kausar, 
Federal Minister for Law and Justice, 
S Block Pakistan Secretariat
Fax: +92 51 920 2628

3. Chairman, 
Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority 
6th Floor, Green Trust Tower Jinnah Avenue, 
Blue Area Islamabad 
Tel: +92-51-9202174/ +92-51-9220282 
Fax: +92-51-9219634 

4. Mr.Syed Mumtaz Alam Gillani 
Federal Minister for Human Rights 
Ministry of Human Rights 
Old US Aid building 
Ata Turk Avenue 
G-5, Islamabad 
Fax: +9251-9204108 

5. Dr. Faqir Hussain 
Supreme Court of Pakistan 
Constitution Avenue, Islamabad 
Fax: + 92 51 9213452 

6. Mrs. Sarod Lashari 
Federal Secretary, 
Ministry of Women Development 
1st Floor, State Life Building 5 
Ministry of Women Development 
Tel :+ 92 51 9206328 
Fax No: + 92 51 9201083 

Thank you. 
Urgent Appeal Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : AHRC-UAC-112-2009
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Caste-based discrimination, Sexual violence, Women's rights,