Archives for May 2017

May 03, 2017 - Comments Off on A Glimpse into the Month of April ’17 at Digital Rights Foundation

A Glimpse into the Month of April ’17 at Digital Rights Foundation

A legislation called Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), which was enacted in the name of securing people of Pakistan struggles to solve issues pertaining to digital spaces. A lot of times, people don't know who to turn to if they encounter any unpleasant incident online. This problem amplifies when citizens don't know their constitutional rights. Digital Rights Foundation was engaged in the series of sessions and events throughout the month of April to talk to people from different backgrounds about their digital rights and aimed at empowering them with the information needed to raise their voices against injustice and to demand their rights as the citizens of Pakistan.

DRF Spoke to 70 journalists from Across Pakistan on Digital Rights and Online Safety

CEJ IBA Photo

DRF spoke to 70 journalists from across  Pakistan on digital rights and online safety at National Media Conference 2017 organised on April 20th - 21st, 2017 by College of Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) at IBA, Karachi. DRF conducted six sessions with the participants who were all journalists from different media groups across Pakistan. The sessions aimed at creating awareness about digital rights and privacy among the journalists who face serious level of threats due to the nature of their work. The participants were also briefed about the lack of data protection and transparency among the service providers, including telecom companies and ISPs, in Pakistan and across the world, and what it means for the users in the absence of data protection laws in Pakistan.

When asked if they read the privacy policies of any service before signing up for it, the main concern of most of the participants and the reason for them to not bother reading the policies was the complicated legal language used in those guidelines that according to them, even if they attempt to read, they won’t understand it.

Facebook Released its Latest Government Requests Report and its Worrying for Pakistan

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Facebook, as part of its ongoing public objective to provide transparency, released its bi-annual Government Requests Report (GRR) for the months of July - December 2016. According to the report, the Government of Pakistan made 1,002 total requests related to 1,431 user accounts, compared to 35 total requests related to 47 user accounts according to the first ever GRR report published in 2013. More on Facebook's GRR report for Pakistan here.

France's "Right to be Forgotten" Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective

Right-to-Be-Forgotten

Doughty Street Chambers joined hands with 18 NGOs including Digital Rights Foundation to file legal submissions before France’s highest court, the Council of State, raising serious concerns about a ruling of France’s data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”), on the “right to be forgotten". Although justified as necessary for the protection of minors and to allow victims of cyber harassment to remove content posted about them online, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have come under fire for being vaguely defined. Read more.

Nighat Dad speaks at Afghanistan's first Internet Governance Forum

Afghan IGF

National IT Professional Association of Afghanistan (NITPAA) organised Afghanistan’s first Afghan School on Internet Governance on April 26 - 27, 2017 where Nighat Dad spoke to the participants. Her talk featured how human rights should be incorporated in internet governance. She also specified the digital rights that should be protected for all the citizens. She highlighted that internet is an open platform and its governance should involve every stakeholder, state and non-state.

Panel Discussion: "Freedom to Information in the Digital Age" at LUMS

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The panel discussion brought together Mukhtar Ahmad Ali (Commissioner for the Punjab Information Commission), Anoosha Shaigan (Courting the Law) and Shmyla from DRF.

The panelists discussed the role of novel and unprecedented ways through digital technologies can be used to enhance the right to information. The panelists discussed the advantages and shortcomings of the the Right to Information legislation in different provinces and the need for a robust one at the federal level.

The question and answer session discussed the role of open government and the need for whistle-blower protection in Pakistan. Students were encouraged to exercise their right to information in their practice and activism to hold the state accountable.

Panel Discussion: ‘The Role of Social Media in Raising Tax Awareness’

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Nighat Dad was invited to speak at a discussion led by the Punjab Revenue Authority on the 7th of April at LUMS. The panel included Industries Secretary Mujtaba Piracha, Bramerz Chief Executive Badar Khushnood, Netsol Executive Anam Naseem, Feryal Gauhar, and two members of the LUMS student body, and the concluding remarks were given by Punjab Minister for Finance Dr. Ayesha Ghaus.

Nighat Dad speaks at LUMS

Internet Rights are Human Rights: Nighat Dad spoke to the students at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on “Internet Rights are Human Rights” on April 28th where she talked about why digital rights in the technological age matter, and how they can demand their rights under the constitution of Pakistan. She also mentioned how when digital rights are violated, people’s freedom to access the online media suffers. She also added the gendered perspective to her talk and emphasized that marginalised groups use the online platform to learn and earn, which they often are barred to do in the real world due to various societal and political reasons.

Nighat Lums April 29

Lecture with the Cyber Law class: Nighat spoke to the students of the cyber law class on online harassment on April 17th. She talked about how online harassment has become a serious issue, and that the online threats are often translated into offline consequences. She also talked about the recently passed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) and briefed the students how it criminalizes cyber crimes and protects the rights of the citizens in the offline spaces. She also points out the problematic sections in the law and emphasized that it criminalizes some harmless criticism too.

Workshop for the Female Students of Journalism and Mass Comm at University of Sargodha

Digital Rights Foundation conducted an awareness raising workshop for female journalism and mass communication students at the University of Sargodha, Sargodha on April 6, 2017.  The one day workshop focused on the threats female journalists face during the course of their work and throughout the interactive session, different tools and strategies were focused upon to help the students safeguard their privacy and security in the course of their journalistic work in the future.

His Name was Mashal: DRF and DSA organised Open Mic in Remembrance of Mashal Khan

Digital Rights Foundation and Democratic Students Alliance (DSA) organised an open mic in remembrance of Mashal Khan who was lynched to death over alleged online blasphemy. The open mic titled "His Name was Mashal" gathered people to discuss the legacy of Mashal Khan, and all that he believed in - freedom of speech and freedom of thought. The videos from the event can be found here and here.

On the 13th of April, Mashal Khan a, student of journalism was lynched at the Abdul Wali Khan University (AWKU) in Mardan. Mashal was shot and beaten to death by a mob of students over alleged blasphemy within the university. Investigations regarding the case are still going on and so far 7 have confessed of their involvement in the murder and 41 people are suspects and under custody. Political turmoil and tensions are at an all time high since political parties are insisting to release the people involved in the murder. AWKU has also set up an inquiring committee to probe into the matter of blasphemous activities carried on by students from the Department of Journalism and furthermore rusticated two of the victims from the university until further notice. On the 28th of December Mashal Khan uploaded statuses about fake profiles being made in his name on social media websites to malign him which has stirred controversy among people and disclaimers about profiles are being posted online. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has gone through Mashal’s profiles and has so far found no blasphemous content on his profile.

DRF’s Guide on “What to do in Case of a Fake profile?”

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Digital Rights Foundation compiled some essential guidelines to follow in case of a fake profile on social media. The detailed infographic describes the reporting mechanisms present to report fake profiles on various social media websites. Details about how to report to the FIA and how to reach out to the Cyber Harassment Helpline [0800-39393] which is the first of its kind in Pakistan were also shared in it. Fake profiles can involve impersonation, spamming, and non-consensual usage of private information and pictures, to name a few. In light of recent events it is important to always be vigilant, and to take proper measures to protect yourself online. The infographic can be accessed here.

May 01, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF and Girls@Dhabas Condemn the Cyber Harassment of Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah

DRF and Girls@Dhabas Condemn the Cyber Harassment of Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah

Zara zor se Bolo: Azadi!

We, the Digital Rights Foundation and Girls at Dhabas, strongly condemn the cyber-harassment, abuse and intimidation that well-known professors and activists of Pakistan Arfana Mallah and Amar Sindhu have been subjected to over the past four months.

Amar Sindhu is a Sindhi poet and a professor of philosophy at Jamshoro University, while Arfana Mallah is a professor of chemistry at Jamshoro University and the head of its teachers’ union. Both are the leading lights behind the Khanabadosh Writers Cafe in Hyderabad, which has helped to revive cultural life in the city along progressive lines. As longstanding members of the Women Action Forum, both Professor Amar Sindhu and Professor Arfana Mallah have ceaselessly struggled for gender, human rights, and political justice in Sindh and the country at large.

While the paths of feminists are never easy in a deeply patriarchal context, the threats and intimidation tactics against them have amplified in the past few months and have frighteningly evolved into concerted efforts to slander and undermine their individual credibility in online and offline spaces. The abuse that they have suffered has included:

  • threats of acid attack, burning, and other forms of physical violence
  • propaganda that they are “anti-national” and an “agent”
  • character assassination on social media with repeated declarations that they are “randi”, “be ghairat”, “bad kirdar” and “fahash”
  • professional maligning through false claims that they are incompetent teachers and shirking their teaching responsibilities
  • shaming them because of the sari as an occasional choice of dress
  • shaming them as being “over-emotional” and “pseudo”
  • demeaning them through classic, misogynist slurs used against courageous and gutsy feminists: that they are “unhappy, single women” who are “half-crazy”

In light of Mashal Khan’s chilling murder, the present pressure cooker conditions engulfing Amar and Arfana are alarming and deserve immediate attention. The Jamshoro campus represents a volatile situation that has escalated, and isolated the two activists. We are concerned that the intense, targeted social media invective against them is designed to prepare groundwork for actual physical assault at the remotest opportunity.

What is even more horrific and noteworthy about the whole situation is that the slander campaign against them is being led by so-called progressive men, who pride themselves on being intellectuals, academics, human rights defenders, nationalists and secular leftists. Have the harassers been paid to engage in this intimidation campaign, or are they just revealing the misogyny and toxic masculinity that often lies beneath the progressive veneer? Many of these bro-gressives hide behind their progressive facade, while unleashing the worst forms of misogyny against women who speak up. On some occasions, Amar Sindhu has received vitriolic, abusive lashing on social media simply for stating her opinion on current political trends in Sindh.

If a man expresses a political opinion, it is considered his opinion and nothing more. If a woman expresses a political opinion e.g. on PTI as happened to be the case, she faces a social media lynch mob. The intention is to put the woman in her place, silence her political speech, and marginalize her from public discourse. We wish to note here that in 2004, Amar Sindhu and three other women were accused of blasphemy in a case of systematic victimization by the then secretary of the Sindhi Adabi Board. They were cleared eventually through an independent investigation - the first of its kind that was undertaken in Sindh. Shockingly, Amar Sindhu also suffered bullet injuries in 2010 when she was participating in the teachers’ movement against the VC of Sindh University (https://www.dawn.com/news/733027/amar-sindhu-injured-in-attack). For their principled stance, both Dr. Arfana and Dr. Amar were fired along with five other faculty members, but eventually restored after much struggle.

It is when women dare to leave the domestic spaces and roles that patriarchal society has chosen for them, and participate as equal human beings in the social, institutional, and political life of society that the most amount of violence is directed at them. Instead of valuing women’s voices and roles in social and institutional settings, progressive men and regressive men work together - often with the support of other patriarchal women - to ensure that women’s tongues are silenced, their rights denied, they are bullied with written and legal threats, and their professional and social status decimated.

We would thus like to situate Amar and Arfana’s case in the larger context of harassment against women, particularly in academia and activist circles in Pakistan where there has recently been an increased backlash against women who speak up. Whether it is the case of misogynists acting against the Digital Rights Foundation, the case of harassment in public universities like Karachi University, or cases in private universities like LUMS or Habib, the repercussions of dissent and calling out abusive men is unflinching retaliation. This is met with outright support, victim-shaming, apologetic attitude, conditionalities for solidarity, bystander behaviour, avoidance, or silence by an even larger community of men who consider themselves progressive.

 We find such hypocrisy pathetic and deeply disturbing: the men who might praise Faiz and recite “bol” shudder in their shoes when courageous women - after systematic trauma - find the strength to actually speak.

We, in Karachi and Lahore and Islamabad, are inspired by the work and warmth of these two powerful feminists, academics and activists. We stand in firm solidarity with them, we openly declare how much we love and adore them, and how grateful we are for their true patriotism. Against worsening odds, it is the sustained struggle of veteran feminists in reclaiming public, political and institutional spaces that enables us younger feminists to do our work in the world. Together, we strive for and realize a better Pakistan.

Towards this goal, we demand civil society members of Sindh to call out so-called progressive men who engage in maligning, abusing, and victmizing Arfana Mallah and Amar Sindhu, and we urge institutions all over Pakistan to strengthen and safeguard the rights of women.