KARACHI: For the sixth consecutive year, a report by the Freedom House in its Freedom on the Net released Tuesday, termed Pakistan as being ‘not free’.
The report researched by the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and research analysts at the Freedom House, primarily highlighted developments by assessing the internet freedom, state-level violations of user rights, and implementation of censorship in 65 countries, accounting for 87 per cent of internet users worldwide between June 2016 and May 2017.
According to the report findings, mobile internet services in Pakistan have been shut down since June 2016 in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
It also concluded that the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act introduced in August 2016 paved way for stronger censorship and surveillance powers but lacked adequate oversight.
The key findings of the report included: A teenager was arrested for allegedly liking a blasphemous post on Facebook in September 2016; a court awarded the death penalty in a separate Facebook blasphemy case in June 2017.
In another instance, five bloggers alleged of criticising authorities and religious militancy were abducted in January 2017; one later claimed that a government institution had detained and tortured him. The fifth was still missing in late 2017.
Moreover, social media personality Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her brother in July 2016 for videos she shared on Facebook. Separately, in a case of lynching in April 2017, a journalism student Mashal Khan was killed by a mob who accused him of online blasphemy.
Report findings also suggest that hackers also stepped up efforts to target government critics, attacking a major media website.
Nighat Dad, the executive director of DRF, observed that internet regulation by government and the prosecution has become stricter with regards to online speech.
“The coverage period of this report includes the electronic crimes act which criminalises a lot of online speech. It has seen detentions on the basis of online speech. There have also been internet shutdowns in more remote parts of the country which means that marginalised populations have been denied access to the internet,” she said, adding that addressing issues like online violence against women and other vulnerable communities remains inadequate and called for allocation of resources for these issues rather than focussing on targeting political speech. She also stated that monitoring of the implementation of laws also needs to be put in place.
Dar revealed that while collecting data for research, the team was shocked how online users, including minorities, were subjected to persecution and death sentences over social media posts.
The report also revealed that the country’s Internet Freedom Status for the year 2017 had deteriorated in comparison to 2016 with the ranking of 18 out of 25 for Obstacles to Access for 2016, the bar sits at 19 for the year 2017; and Violations of User Rights which sat at 31 out of 40 for the year 2016; it’s now at 32.
Pakistan is ranked at 71 out of 100 (100 being the worst) over for this year, two points down from last year’s ranking.
Freedom on the Net and Freedom House’s research seeks to address the failings of the state in protecting the rights of citizens by compiling and analysing evidence that activists and concerned citizens can use to push for greater democracy online as well as offline.