Rights defenders in Pakistan are under threat from an alleged "digital attacks," endangering their personal security in a country where it is extremely dangerous to be a human rights activist, Amnesty International warned Tuesday.
The monitoring group has released findings of its four-month investigation into what it condemned as a "sinister" campaign.
The scathing report said an "elaborate network" of individuals and companies based in Pakistan is using "fake" Facebook and Google login pages to "ensnare" human rights activists online to "mark them out for surveillance and cybercrime."
Amnesty researchers used digital forensic techniques and malware analysis to uncover the hacking methods.
They said social media accounts have been hacked and computers and mobile phones infected with spyware to "trick" victims into revealing passwords and personal information.
"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," said Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty's director for global issues.
Amnesty's report found that the campaign has targeted several Pakistani activists in this way, sometimes by people claiming to be human rights activists themselves.
The group demanded that being an elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Pakistan must immediately order an independent investigation to uncover those running the campaign to ensure security of human rights activists both online and offline.
Pakistani authorities were not available immediately for a reaction to Amnesty's claims.
Tuesday's revelations by Amnesty came against the backdrop of increased complaints Pakistani security institutions are allegedly subjecting civil society activists, including journalists, bloggers and peaceful protesters, to threats, intimidation, violent attacks and enforced disappearances.
The country's leading independent watchdog, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, or HRCP, in its annual report, released a month ago, said that activists continue to experience threats, attacks and abductions. It documented a rise in incidents in which the country's anti-blasphemy law is used to "coerce people into silence."
"The people's right to socio-cultural activities is curtailed by intolerance and extremism, and authorities are lenient for fear of a political backlash," the HRCP report said.
Several social media activists known to be highly critical of the Pakistan army had briefly "disappeared" early last year. Some of them later left the country for security reasons and accused security agencies for orchestrating their abductions.
Pakistani officials acknowledge counterterrorism operations do lead to prolonged detentions of suspects but they insist their number runs in the hundreds and those offered by rights activists are inflated ones.
Source: Voice of America