The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has voiced serious alarm over arbitrary curbs on freedom of expression, a climate of intimidation and the authorities’ stated intent to act against any perceived slight to the armed forces through the social media.
In a statement issued on Friday, the Commission said: “HRCP notes with growing concern the prevailing climate with regard to freedom of expression. We are particularly alarmed by statements of at least two federal ministers, one of which vowed severe action under the cyber crime law and through the other the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA) was directed to proceed against those ‘dishonouring’ the army through the social media.
“HRCP wishes to remind the authorities that any limitations on the freedom of opinion, expression and information must be in consonance with Article 19 of the ICCPR and the constitution of Pakistan. The constitution itself states that any restriction regarding the Article 19 freedoms must be reasonable and shall only take effect if provided by law.
“According to the information submitted in parliament this week, since the present government came to power, the cyber crime wing of the FIA has registered nearly 900 cases.
“In this context, HRCP also wishes to commend Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) for recognising and flagging abuse of the cybercrime law for political victimisation and intimidation of activists and correctly calling it out as unacceptable in a democracy.
“HRCP hopes and expects that other political parties will also raise the issue and demand an end to arbitrary curbs on and intimidation of political activists, bloggers, journalists and other civil society activists.
“The ability to comment on issues of public importance is the essence of democracy and putting barriers to freedom of opinion and expression is disastrous for society. We hope the authorities realise how the prevailing situation demonstrates their hostility towards freedom of expression. We also hope that such hostility is not intentional.
“Finally, HRCP humbly wishes to emphasise that striving to gain freedom from all kinds of comments and criticism will not benefit the armed forces or any other public institution for that matter. It might well cause harm to national institutions.”