IRADA – Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development has released “Annual Pakistan Media Legal Review 2020” . The aim of the report is to review legislative, legal and judicial developments on Freedom of Expression, Right to Information and Digital Rights in Pakistan.
The report indicates increasing blocking of media content and platforms, unstable policies, connectivity constraints and weaponization of cybercrime has contributed to Pakistan’s worsening situation of freedom of speech and right to information. “The accumulative effect of these outcomes was that the already unfriendly legal framework governing freedom of expression, right to information and digital rights in Pakistan worsened considerably during 2020,” report says.
The report also stated, since 2019 Pakistan’s Government is over-regulating internet, media and even content produced by journalists, online citizens and opposition political parties and their leaders. This strict regulation is the consequence of Government inability to enforce proper policies and regulation specifically in online spaces.
“This is resulting in a rise in censorship, hate speech, digital surveillance and breach of privacy and disinformation and misinformation online,” the report added.
As per report, Pakistan is writing its own definition of freedom of speech, based on that the authorities are accelerating their control over internet and further extending policies that shows no remorse for dissent in the country. The report also discussed that Cybercrime is being used as weapon against the free thinkers and opinion makers. Several journalists and social media activist have faced the wrath of PECA (Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016) which results in, “13 incidents of actions under Peca against journalists or human rights activists have been reported during the year.”
Many of the political inclined content creators have been issued warrants, investigated, arrested and/or arrested. Moreover, Pakistan has entered into the new era of banning social media platforms as we have seen this practice happening quite often.
Mohammad Aftab Alam – Executive Director for IRADA also commented in the report;
Freedom of expression is a guaranteed fundamental right in the shape of Article 19 of the Constitution, the government needs to roll back its increasingly coercive policy and hostile practices aimed at curbing free speech and bring them in alignment with the best practices of diversity and pluralism in expression and allow online spaces to be representative of the people’s opinions and interests.”