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June 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

Digital Rights Foundation and Girls at Dhabas condemn the attack on Asma Jahangir’s associates from AGHS Legal Aid Cell - comprising a female lawyer and two male lawyers - inside a courtroom at the Lahore High Court yesterday morning, i.e. June 20, 2017, by a large group of about 60 to 70 lawyers. This group was present on the court premises to bully Ms. Asma’s team on behalf of Maqsood Buttar, member of Pakistan Bar Council. The presiding judge in the courtroom was Justice Abdul Sami Khan.

Asma and her team have been representing a poor woman who filed a petition to find her missing daughter, 26-year-old Aisha, and grandson, Alyaan. According to the petitioner, Aisha was secretly married to Maqsood Buttar and gave birth to his son. Both Aisha and Alyaan disappeared over 6 months ago. According to Aisha’s mother, after giving birth to Alyaan, Aisha started demanding that Maqsood treat both of them equally, like he would his other family. As a result, Maqsood was repeatedly violent and abusive towards her, up and until her disappearance, along with Alyaan’s.

Yesterday, at the Lahore High Court, 60 to 70 lawyers entered the court premises, disrupting proceedings, chanting insulting slogans and hurling abuses to address Asma Jahangir and her associates (terms such as “gashti” and “agent” were hurled at them). Noor Ejaz Chaudhry, the female associate who was present in court, was told to stay in her “aukaat” and harassed, and when her colleague, Osama Malik, came forward to defend her, he was manhandled and thrashed by some of the lawyers present. His clothes were torn apart and he was dragged out of the courtroom. All this happened in the presence of the judge, and the associates had to be given a backdoor to escape this violent scene.

The legal fraternity in Pakistan is rife with sexism, misogyny and injustice, as can be seen by such occurrences. Incidents like these happen frequently within our courtrooms and law firms. Systematic issues such as the overall lack of female judges in our higher judiciary and hostile courtroom environment makes work extremely difficult, and, at times, dangerous. Our female lawyers do not just fight legal battles; they endure horror stories every single day. The majority of men in the legal fraternity deliberately subject their female colleagues and peers to harassment in their professional lives. Let us not forget that Pakistan is the only South Asian country that has never had a female judge in its apex court, i.e. the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Moreover, as rightly pointed out by Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists, the Pakistan Bar Council has never had a female member in over 40 years of its establishment.

Bar politics and intimidation by lawyers is another problem that has impeded justice and resulted in the harassment of several litigants. The abuse of power and mobilization flies in the face of tall claims of access to justice and litigant-friendly courts. Abuse of power and violence is openly flouted by lawyers who instead of protecting and defending the most vulnerable among us, continue to misuse their power and political clout with impunity. This instance is a clear obstruction of justice and an attempt to wrongly protect lawyers within the fraternity.

There needs to be strong and categorical rulings ordering strict measures against lawyers who routinely harass women. It is extremely important to end impunity of lawyers engaging in such offensive conduct and to ensure that there are repercussions for those who deliberately engage in such behaviour. Furthermore, such measures will ensure that members of the legal fraternity are well aware of the fact that their words and/or actions represent discrimination and/or harassment. Judges need to take strict action to ensure that their courtroom is free of discrimination of any sort, and that nobody present during the hearing is mistreated. There needs to be a larger conversation, at all levels of the court system and legal fraternity, regarding the underrepresentation of women and the harassment that they face.

We stand in solidarity with Aisha’s mother, as well as Asma and her associates, and hope to find answers regarding the disappearance of Aisha and her son Alyaan. Addressing what happened yesterday, and resolving the case in question, is necessary to prevent more unfortunate episodes and miscarriages of justice like these from taking place.

#MisogynyinPkCourts #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

June 19, 2017 - Comments Off on The Rights of Pakistani Citizens in the Digital Realm

The Rights of Pakistani Citizens in the Digital Realm

Free speech on social media is being actively stifled by the government. Many people have received telephone calls by the Federal Investigations Agency (FIA), requiring them to present themselves at the FIA offices. People have received notices too. There have been detentions and seizures of people’s personal electronic devices.  Most alarmingly, criminal proceedings have been instituted against an individual for expressing opinions critical of the country’s armed forces.

In such circumstances, it is essential that citizens know exactly what the limits of their freedom of expression are. It is also important that they know their rights in case they find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

So what speech is actually prohibited?

The first FIR that has been lodged in such a case alleges a violation of Sections 20 and 24 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) and Sections 419 and 500 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

Section 20 - “Offences Against Dignity of Natural Person” of the PECA prohibits intentional public expression of false information online that has been made to intimidate a person, or to harm his/her reputation, or violate their privacy. It is important to note that this section appears to prohibit such speech made in relation to a human being, and not an organization or institution.

Section 24 - “Cyberstalking” prohibits doing the following four things online if they are done with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass a person: i) following a person, contacting, or trying to contact a person despite clear indication of disinterest by such a person, ii) monitoring a person’s internet use, emails, text messages, or any other form of electronic communication, iii) watching or spying on a person in a manner that makes them fearful, seriously alarmed, or distressed, d) taking a photo or making a video of a person and distributing it online without their consent. As with Section 20, this section also only concerns conduct relating to humans and not organizations or institutions.

Cheating a person by pretending to be someone else, or concealing your real identity is criminalized through Section 419 - “Punishment for cheating by personation” of the PPC. To be convicted of this provision, a person must cause some sort of damage, or do something that is likely to cause damage to the person being cheated. This provision is likely to be relevant when a person uses a fake profile to cheat someone.

The last provision that has been used by the FIA in its FIR is Section 500 - “Punishment for Defamation” of PPC which pertains to criminal defamation. This section criminalizes expression concerning any person that has been made with the intention to harm, or knowing, or having reason to believe that the imputations being made will harm their reputation. This provision also prohibits speech pertaining to organizations and institutions. However, good faith comments pertaining to the public conduct of public servants, and conduct of any person touching any public question are allowed.

As evident from the discussion above, good faith criticism of state instrumentalities does not seem to be prohibited. However, before the superior judiciary pronounces an authoritative judgment in this regard, explaining the applicability of these laws, any such discussion is purely speculative. Conduct that is in violation of the current governmental policy of censorship may lead to litigation, and may cause substantial inconvenience and financial costs. It is up to each individual to asses their preferred exposure to such inconvenience and conduct themselves accordingly.

Watch the video that Digital Rights Foundation curated to help citizens of Pakistan better understand the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA):

What to do if the state gets involved?

Section 160 - “Police Officer’s Powers to Acquire Attendance of Witnesses” of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C), along with the PECA, allows the FIA to require a person to present themselves for question regarding a possible commission of an offence. The FIA, however, has been requiring such attendance over phone calls, which is illegal. A person receiving such a phone call must politely, but firmly, demand a formal notice under Section 160.

Upon receipt of such a notice, the person must present themselves before the authorities and answer all their questions truthfully. Where a person feels that answering a question might expose them to criminal liability, they may refuse to answer. Their statement may be recorded on paper, but the FIA does not have the authority to compel them to sign it.

Furthermore, the FIA does not have the authority to detain a person when they have been called pursuant to a Section 160 notice.

The FIA has also required people to surrender their electronic devices for forensic searches. It appears that the FIA is not authorized to do so without a warrant. So if someone finds himself or herself being asked to surrender their devices, they should demand to see a warrant authorizing such a seizure. A person may be required to bring their devices to the authorities, but a seizure of these devices will always require a court warrant.

The FIA, may, however, ask you to surrender your data if it apprehends that the data might be destroyed. This can possibly be done by making a copy of your hard disk. However, the FIA must provide you a written notice under Section 31 - “Expedited Preservation and Acquisition of Data” of the PECA when doing so, and bring this retention to the court’s notice within 24 hours.

So how should we tailor our conduct?

As discussed above, each person must make their own decision as to how much inconvenience they are willing to expose themselves to. Given that the PECA is a relatively new law and the courts have not really explained the contours and limits of its provisions, little about it is known with certainty. It is likely that the government’s interpretation of the law is flawed, and its actions will be restrained in the future by the courts. Till that time, however, online expressions that are critical of state institutions, such as the armed forces, may land a person in trouble. If one does find themselves in trouble, it is highly advisable to immediately seek legal counsel.

Author: Jahanzeb Sukhera
"Jahanzeb is a lawyer based in Lahore"

June 15, 2017 - Comments Off on Data Protection & Privacy in the Digital Age – Part 1: “You Are Being Watched”

Data Protection & Privacy in the Digital Age – Part 1: “You Are Being Watched”

It’s a regular, blazing hot day in sun-scorched Lahore. You might be in the mood for a cocktail, so you call up a local restaurant, asking for their timings and menu. Later in the day, when you're scrolling through Facebook on your mobile, you notice advertisements of the very same place being shoved in your face not-so-subtly, with the blue thumbs up button urging you to “like” the page and subscribe to the restaurant’s updates.

Some of us might find these targeted ads convenient, but many others find them intrusive and even disturbing. Whether you are shopping, eating out, socializing or browsing the internet, you are being monitored and filed through the digital traces produced by your life. Data collection has become synonymous in the age of digital consumerism. It’s at work when you purchase an item from some random shop which then targets you with dozens of SMS. Ever wonder how businesses you have never even heard of solicit you? It’s because your data is being sold for exorbitant prices to marketers who then spam you with advertisements for everything from clothes to mattresses. Behind the complex algorithms powering your favourite apps and websites lies a humongous database of personal information and meta-data that paints a complete portrait of your social identity. Your silent stalkers are none other than the very institutions that form  a part of your daily lives. From local businesses to multinational corporations, from boutiques to your mobile network, and from NADRA to FIA, your personal information is increasingly in the hands of giant corporations and government agencies which operate without any legal oversight or safeguards for data collection and transmission.

Re-thinking your choice of a cool summer drink?

You’re not alone.

We live in what cyber space specialists call the “Golden Age of Surveillance.” As our lives become increasingly digitalized, our privacy is proportionally threatened by the onslaught of data-hungry marketers and companies interested in snooping on our behavioural preferences. Businesses want to know everything about our spending habits so we can open our wallets to them more often. Everything from why we shop, what we buy and how much we spend is information that is priceless to marketers. Remarkably, we might just be helping data collectors unwillingly. We all know people who feel the need to document their personal lives on social media, from uploading albums of pictures on Facebook to snapping the latest dish from the hottest restaurant in town. Some of us might be to blame for oversharing as well. And it’s not just businesses. Fingerprint identification and SIM card registration might be useful for anti-terrorism efforts, but it’s also a privacy nightmare for regular citizens. Not all of us realize that with or without our consent, our lives are being tracked and gathered in a massive database of personal information by companies and government agencies.

But what can we do about it?

Data protection laws might help. Such laws empower data subjects such as you and I with the ability to control the collection of our personal information, equalize our position against powerful data-mining corporations and authorities, and prevent discriminatory and abusive usage. Data protections include restrictions on data transmission and retention, limitations against intrusions of personal information and offenses for violators. The importance of such legal safeguards goes beyond our concerns for privacy: according to reports by the United Nations, even the perception of surveillance by government agencies produces a chilling effect on citizens, who censor themselves out of fear. Political dissenters, journalists, activists and whistleblowers might pay a greater price for acting in the public interest in the absence of protective mechanisms. Data protection laws help foster a democratic environment which encourages, rather than stifles, the free exchange of ideas and discourses. Increasing reliance on such laws in the international sphere means that there are economic advantages for data privacy legislation. Pakistan is unfortunately among the 60 countries in the world which completely lacks such data protection legislation. Our nearest competitor, India, for example, is in the process of enacting comprehensive data protection legislation to secure economic co-operation with the European Union, whose laws demand partner countries to adopt such protections for commercial interests.

In short, data protection laws are severely needed to protect our social, economic and political interests, and thus our very lives.

Author: Ashtar Haideri

June 06, 2017 - Comments Off on Of Challenging Online Violence, Preserving Digital Rights and Internet Freedom: May 2017 at DRF

Of Challenging Online Violence, Preserving Digital Rights and Internet Freedom: May 2017 at DRF

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May 2017 was one of the busiest months at Digital Rights Foundation. With a talk at Carter Center, one at University of Harvard, the launch of a research study, a national conference, two workshops, and multiple events and sessions throughout Pakistan - the team was busy making the internet safe and accessible for everyone.

This post summarizes the activities in May 2017 at Digital Rights Foundation.

Nighat Dad speaks at the Harvard University - May 3, 2017

Nighat Dad spoke about "Digital Rights and Online Harassment in the Global South" at The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University on May 3, 2017. Nighat's talk focused on how people in the South are unaware of their digital rights. They, especially women, face online harassment and have no support to handle the trauma that comes with it. She also emphasized on the fact that cyber threats very often translate into offline consequences.

Nighat Harvard

Nighat shared the process of setting up Pakistan's first Cyber Harassment Helpline with a very limited budget for the survivors and victims of online harassment. She alse highlighted the stats of the helpline in the first 4 months of operation since its launch in December 2016. The talk in its entirety can be watched here: [YouTube Link]

Digital Security Clinic at Digital Youth Summit 2017 - May 5 to 7, 2017 in Peshawar

In early May, DRF organised a free Digital Security Clinic at the Digital Youth Summit in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Our 3-person team dispensed digital security advice, raised awareness about cyber harassment, and gave people hands-on demonstrations on how to use important digital security tools. The clinic was an immense success, serving approximately 320 over two days--that’s around 20 people per hour!

DRF Tweet Wall at Digital Youth Summit

DRF Tweet Wall at Digital Youth Summit

The team was expecting a conference full of techies, but to their pleasant surprise many of the visitors were from non-STEM backgrounds-–including teachers, political activists, businesspersons, artists & artisans. The team also put up a tweet-wall against harassment that KPK filled up with lots of love. But the moment that made it worth it all was when one of our female visitors looked at us and said: “Thank you all for doing this here!”

Nighat Dad Speaks at The Carter Center - May 8-9, 2017:

Nighat Dad addressed the former US President Mr. Jimmy Carter, and Senator Mr. Bernie Sanders at The Human Rights Defenders Forum organised by and at The Carter Center.

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Nighat talked about some major issues that concern digital rights and privacy of the global citizens, including the laptop ban that Nighat says is actually "the Muslim laptop ban". She also emphasized on the US mass surveillance and the Muslim travel ban. According to her, these human rights violations by the countries like the United States of America set bad precedence for other countries like Pakistan that adopt their practices and laws from the west.

Watch the video here as she speaks to the room full of human rights defenders from around the globe.

Hamara Internet FNF Training - Bacha Khan University

Digital Rights Foundation held an awareness raising session with the students of Bacha Khan University, Charsada in collaboration with Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF). The session was held to create awareness among women about online violence, abuse and harassment. Digital security tips were also given to women in the session to create awareness on how women can protect themselves online. University students actively participated throughout the session and shared their queries and stories regarding online harassment.

Charsadda Session

Nighat Dad Selected as TEDGlobal Fellow for 2017

Nighat Dad has been selected as one of the TEDGlobal Fellows for 2017. Nighat along with 20 other fellows for 2017 will talk at the TED stage in August in Arusha, Tanzania. According to the TEDGlobal website, “[The TED Fellows] are building companies, sequencing rare diseases, exploring the stars, making music, saving lives, mapping political violence, and much much more.” Details here.

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Nighat has been defending digital rights and advocating for the open internet access for all in Pakistan since 2012. She has been named TIME’s Next Generation Leader 2015, has won the Atlantic Council Award, and the prestigious Human Rights Tulip Award in 2016.

Hamara Internet Workshop “Ending Cyber Harassment Against Women with CSO Representatives" - May 22, 2017

DRF held a workshop under the Hamara Internet banner in Islamabad with civil society representatives to discuss the impact of cyber harassment and online abuse. Participants participated enthusiastically where they discussed various roles of Civil Society Organisations (CSO's) to prevent online violence and harassment. The closed working group also shared their opinion about the role of media and its implications for common citizens.

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Hamara Internet Conference "Challenging the Evolving Threat of Online Violence" - 25th May, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation organized the “Hamara Internet Conference- Challenging the Evolving Threat of Online Violence” in Lahore on May 25, 2017. The conference included women and digital rights activists, and dealt with issues of online harassment, freedom of expression, privacy, data protection, monitoring, the internet economy, and digital access. The event was attended by students, academics, activists, members of the tech industry, journalists, and women's rights organizations. The panels consisted of “Hamara Internet: Understanding Online Harassment”, “Opportunities on the Internet: New Patterns in Business, Employment and Innovation for women” and “Imagining a Feminist Internet with the Help of Hamara Internet."

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The conference also marked the soft launch of Digital Rights Foundation’s quantitative study “Hamara Internet: Measuring Pakistani women’s of online violence”. Furthermore, Jannat Fazal (Psychologist, DRF) and Safieh Shah (Consultant, Medicin Sans Frontiere) also presented their research on “Online harassment: Implication on the mental health of women globally, based on a review of Digital Rights Foundation’s operations in Pakistan."

Measuring Pakistani Women's Experience of Online Violence - Research Study by DRF

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Digital Rights Foundation marked the soft-launch of Pakistan’s first quantitative research study on online violence titled, “Measuring Pakistani Women’s Experiences of Online Violence” on May 25, 2017. The study compiles the data collected from close to 1400 women during the 17 sessions that had been conducted in Punjab, Sindh, KhyberPakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Gilgit, to create the first ever set of data around online violence in Pakistan. The study maps different aspects of online violence against women, along with a look at how women use digital tools on the whole. It highlights the need for more awareness about anti-harassment laws.

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It was found that 72% of the female respondents reported that they were not aware of cyber harassment laws in Pakistan. Most women pointed out that they either had not read or understand (24%) terms and conditions of social media websites. Furthermore, 45% of the women felt that they did not report online harassment because they were embarrassed and 47% felt that it would not be taken seriously by law enforcement agencies.

The details on the research can be accessed here.

Workshop on Privacy and Digital Rights - May 26, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation held a workshop on privacy and digital rights on on May 26, 2017 in Lahore.

Privacy workshop

The Workshop discussed the state of privacy rights in Pakistan in light of cyber law and its implementation. The goal of this focus group discussion was to start a debate about the law, its significance and shortcomings in terms of implementation. Furthermore, Digital Rights Foundation talked about privacy rights and the need for a data protection law in light of best practices abroad. The workshop participants were divided around themes of media regulation (both traditional and social media), SAFE City initiatives and telecommunications policies. The participants put forward several suggestions regarding standard operating procedures, right to know how information is used and demanded transparency from the government. The participants pointed out that social media and blogs are unregulated, and they concluded that there needs to be some SOPs around media ethics and privacy.

Online Harassment : A Retrospective Review of Digital Rights Foundation

A study on Online Harassment was presented by Jannat Fazal - the mental health counselor at DRF - and Safieh Shah - Consultant at MSF -  on MSF Scientific Day 2017 organised by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Delhi, India on May 27, 2017.

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The aim of the review of the data is to highlight the psychological impact of cyber harassment on female mental health in Pakistan. Data was collected through Cyber Harassment Helpline from 406 callers using telephonic questionnaire from December 2016 to April 2017. This included demographics, problem description and notes taken by the experts during calls.

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

Digital Rights Foundation and Girls@Dhabas released a joint statement to 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. Read the statement here.

May 26, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF Launches New Report on Online Violence Against Women in Pakistan

DRF Launches New Report on Online Violence Against Women in Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation marked the soft-launch of Pakistan’s first quantitative research study on online violence titled, “Measuring Pakistani Women’s Experiences of Online Violence”. The research is part of Digital Rights Foundation’s ongoing project “Hamara Internet” that aims at raising awareness, training women how to safely use digital spaces, and teaching them how to fight online abuse and tech-related violence.

The research study “Measuring Pakistani Women’s Experiences of Online Violence” compiles the data collected from close to 1400 women during the 17 sessions that had been conducted in Punjab, Sindh, KhyberPakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Gilgit, to create the first ever set of data around online violence in Pakistan. The study maps different aspects of online violence against women, along with a look at how women use digital tools on the whole. The data collected from the students studying in public and private universities quantified women’s habits online, experiences with harassment, and knowledge of protection measures. The research fills the gap in existing data on online harassment among women in Pakistan.

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According to the findings of the research, 79% of the respondents use technological devices regularly, 48% of them own smartphones whereas the majority of 67% use Facebook regularly. The study also marks that 72% of the women were not aware of the laws relating to online violence in Pakistan.

The research also finds that 25% of the respondents were aware of the terms and conditions of social media, whereas 51% said that they don’t understand the terms and conditions completely. Considering that only the fourth of the total number of women surveyed knew and understood the said terms, the situation becomes alarming as a large number of women have joined the social media services without knowing what they’re signing up for. If women do not understand these systems to begin with, they effectively forgo whatever means of protection they could have used that are available at their disposal.

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When asked about how much information of them exists online, most of the respondents - 35% - agreed that very little information about them exists online while 6% committed that a lot about themis available on the internet. This adds to the already established belief that women prefer anonymity online owing to fear of their own security online and offline. Women were also hesitant to put their information online because of the fear of getting harassed that was established by the responses of 50% women who agreed that they’re mostly prone to online sexual harassment on social media than any other medium.

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The report reiterates that 40% of the respondents have been harassed or stalked online at some point. However according to the survey, 70% of the women are afraid of putting up their own photos online because they are afraid of them being misused.

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When asked if they’d share their photos and posts with others online, most of the respondents - 37% - disagreed and 29% strongly disagreed. Whereas only 3% said that they’d definitely share their posts and pictures online.

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Online sexual harassment is multifaceted and every person takes it differently and their experiences vary from each other. For this matter, we asked the participants if they’d report online violence to the law enforcing agencies (LEAs). 39% of the participants said it would tarnish their reputation, and 33% said that it’d cause danger to them.

The study also highlighted some positive factors. Like when asked if women who are harassed online should stop using social media, 45% strongly disagreed. 28% strongly disagreed and 30% disagreed with the statement that women who are harassed online are at fault.

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The objective of the survey was to fill the gap in existing data on online harassment against women and to analyse gendered access to technology. The report also aimed at exploring the experiences of women online and also initiate politicized and informed discussion about gender empowerment within the virtual space. This report will also be used as an advocacy tool for gendered digital rights.

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.

April 29, 2017 - Comments Off on Facebook Releases Government Transparency Report and it’s Worrying

Facebook Releases Government Transparency Report and it’s Worrying

Facebook recently released its annual Government Request Reports (GRR) for the period covering July 2016 - December 2016, as part of its ongoing public objective to provide transparency. GRRs are released by Facebook every six months, and lists the number of requests for content removal, restriction, user data, and any other requests made by governments worldwide. The GRRs also list if requests have been made - and acceded to by the company - according to specific regional or national legislation.  DRF has written about Facebook’s Government Request Reports, and requests made on the grounds of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy law, in the past.  

The July - December 2016 GRR for Pakistan indicates that 1,002 total requests were made by the government; 1,431 requests related to users/accounts were made, with 67.56% of the requests resulting in “Some Data” being “Produced”.

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As DRF wrote in 2015,

In the wake of Snowden, it has become important for large tech corporations to be transparent about their interactions with governments ie requests to either access or remove data from particular social media or websites. Facebook and Google have in recent years released transparency reports that announce the number of data removal/access requests by governments.

The Snowden leaks were in 2013. Since then, however, the number of requests by the government of Pakistan has shown to have increased dramatically - from 35 total requests and data requests for 47 users/accounts in January - June 2013, to 1,002 and 1,431 respectively in 2016.

The ongoing rise in requests continues a troubling trend, and should give netizens cause for concern. As we have seen over the past couple of years, the government of Pakistan continues to attempt to control what its citizens can read, see, hear and talk about online, to close off what is otherwise an open platform. Given the accelerated discourse and action by the government in regards to blasphemy and national security, one can only expect these figures to rise even higher in 2017.

The GRR also mentions the number of requests to preserve the user data until the legal procedures are over. According to the GRR, Facebook received 442 preservation requests related to 677 users/accounts. However, 6 requests were made to restrict content to be accessed by Pakistani users. The report mentions that,Based on legal requests from the Pakistan Telecom Authority and Federal Investigation Agency, we restricted access to items that were alleged to violate local laws prohibiting blasphemy and condemnation of the country's independence.” Content Restriction Requests have been decreased from 25 since January - June 2016.

The GRR also points out that Facebook services in Pakistan were disrupted due to the internet shutdown coincided with the observance of Chehlum in November 2016.

In the light of the content removal on and by Facebook, either requested by the Government of Pakistan or as per the site’s Community Guidelines, this report raises certain questions:

What legislation is the government used to request content take-downs and access to user data? When content is being flagged under “Condemnation of the country’s independence”, what is this content, and how is it being defined as such?

In March 2017, Facebook agreed to send a delegation to Pakistan to examine the viability of controlling blasphemous content as per the request of the government. According to a statement by the Interior Ministry:

“The administration of Facebook has agreed to send its delegation to Pakistan to address the concerns of the government. The Facebook in a letter has informed the government that it was ready to solve the matter through dialogue and consultation and was aware of the stance of Pakistan on the blasphemous content. The Facebook has also appointed a focal person for coordination with the PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority)”.

This development was made public just a week after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) suggested the blasphemous content and hate material to be blocked on social media. The court, in the same hearing, noted that; “This matter requires immediate attention otherwise patience of the followers of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) may run out.” On March 27, the Interior Ministry informed the IHC of the successful blocking of 85% of blasphemous content by Facebook.

This is not the first time that the government of Pakistan has requested that material be taken down or have access blocked to content online in its entirety in an attempt to restrict or control questionable material. In May 2010, Facebook was blocked in Pakistan in response to public outrage concerning “Draw Muhammad (PBUH) Day.” The ban, however, was lifted after two weeks after the blasphemous content was restricted to be accessed in Pakistan by the company. YouTube was banned for almost 3 years - from September 2012 to January 2016 - after the blasphemous video “Innocence of Muslims” was uploaded on the largest video sharing site. These websites were blocked on the orders of the court over charges of sacrilegious material.

It is important to note that after the passage of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), the authorities have been granted sweeping powers over the online content, and the rise in the content requests to Facebook is just one example of it.

Author: Hija Kamran

April 11, 2017 - Comments Off on Cyber Harassment Helpline Completes Its Four Months of Operation

Cyber Harassment Helpline Completes Its Four Months of Operation

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is launching a report for the first four months of operation for its Cyber Harassment Helpline.

The Cyber Harassment Helpline is Pakistan’s first dedicated helpline addressing issues of online abuse and violence providing a free, safe, gender-sensitive and confidential service. The Helpline Support Staff gives legal advice, digital security support and psychological counselling to victims of online harassment. The Helpline was launched on December 1, 2016. The toll free number [0800-39393] is available to people looking for help between 9am till 5pm, Monday to Friday. The Support Staff can also be contacted via email at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk.  

According to our findings in the first four months of its operation the helpline received 513 individual complaints. The total number of calls were 535, with 406 of them being individual cases. 62% of the calls were made by women, whereas 37% of the callers were men. The platform where people face the most harassment was found to be Facebook and most of the complaints were regarding fake profiles, non consensual use of information, blackmailing, unsolicited messages and hacked accounts or devices. Majority of the cases received by the Helpline were from Punjab (41.3%) whereas 23.90% individuals did not disclose their location. The helpline also got calls from Sindh (17.8%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (4.70%), Balochistan (1.30%), Azad  Kashmir (0.70%), Federal Territory (10.10%) and outside Pakistan (0.20%).

After assessing the overwhelming number of cases, the report has identified some recommendations for law enforcement agencies and the government. DRF has recognized the need for further improvement within the National Response Centre for Cyber Crime (NR3C) of the FIA. The NR3C is understaffed with limited resources which is why there are delays in registration and investigation of cases pertaining to cyber harassment. We also propose gender-sensitisation training for FIA’s staff, along with recruitment of female Investigative Officers (IOs). The FIA’s National Response Centers for Cyber Crime needs to be expanded to more cities, as they are currently limited to major cities of Pakistan, which restricts the accessibility to justice and is a deterrent to reporting for many women living in smaller cities or remote locations.

For more information on the helpline, write us an email at info@digitalrightsfoundation.pk.

 

April 10, 2017 - Comments Off on Cyber Harassment: How Real is it for A Survivor’s Mental Health?

Cyber Harassment: How Real is it for A Survivor’s Mental Health?

Most of the times, online harassment is dismissed because it doesn’t happen in the physical space, in the “real” world. But what we fail to understand is that digital or cyber space is a part of the real world now and there are no boundaries anymore. It is commonly believed in Pakistan that physical harassment has a long term effect on a person’s mental health but the far reaching effect of online harassment has not been evaluated yet.

Where cyberspace and social media, the virtual world, is a wonderful place to connect with people, sharing updates and pictures online, it also makes it easier for perpetrators to access people and harass them. Anything happening in the digital world materializes in the physical world as well, and is as ‘real’ as our physical surroundings. Thus, threat, abuse, blackmail or harassment in the digital world has the potential of having a debilitating impact on individuals.

The problem with digital harassment is that it never goes away. Pictures, people’s comments never go away. The controversies never go away. In the physical space, there is a chance of outgrowing or getting away from the harasser but with online harassment, this isn’t the case. The only option people are left with is to withdraw from social space or be anonymous - without identity.

Unfortunately, while the impact of physical harassment is documented but the effect of online harassment has not been looked into in Pakistan. Ironically, Pakistan, according to World Bank Statistics, is one of the countries with highest growth rate in internet users in SAARC region but with least work done on the impact and effects of online bullying and harassment.

Since it’s impossible to completely leave digital spaces, even if you change your identity, your previous posts and pictures will always be out there.This inability to escape, and not knowing whom to contact for help when being cyber stalked or harassed, distresses the victim.

In the beginning, this distress manifests as denial when the threat is not perceived as imminent or troublesome. This changes into confusion and self doubt when the threat materializes but is still difficult to believe that it is happening to them. Subsequently, self-blame along with guilt and frustration emerges, where victims start blaming themselves for its occurrence because they think they responded back to a meaningless text or talked to a certain person or willingly became friends with a stranger.

Even more troubling, when it comes to seeking support, oftentimes friends and family members they reach out to reinforce their thinking that they did, in fact, bring it upon themselves. The constant guilt causes depression and anxiety. They face difficulty concentrating and attending to things at home /school/workplace. Constant rumination increases distress and symptoms of depression that lead to isolation, withdrawal, self-harm and in some cases suicidal ideation.

The sense of being trapped, having brought this upon themselves, is particularly acute in the case of women. Sometimes, the perceived shame brought onto the family forces them to contemplate suicide, believing that this would end the problem, yet the problem persists. Or at times their  families chose death for them as was the case with Qandeel Baloch who was harassed, victimized and murdered. She was not the only one who suffered from online harassment that presented itself in her physical world and killed her, there are many just like her suffering in silence or committing suicide because no help is available to them. Same perpetrators, different victims and this cycle continues.

An all too familiar case is of Naila Rind, a girl who committed suicide after allegedly being blackmailed. But does one commit suicide on a whim? No, it takes a certain level of distress that forces one to believe that all the problems would end with their death, their family would be better off without them and this thinking incites them to commit suicide. Yet, many who choose to live with “soiled” reputation and constant guilt start to become insecure in their relationships  and remain emotionally isolated. It becomes very difficult for them to open up or trust anyone in their later life.

The only way to counter this is by educating people that online harassment is real. The way forward is to educate and change mind-sets, that harassment against anyone, of either gender, community, religion, is unacceptable. With this awareness, it becomes pertinent that one does not blame and shame the victims of online harassment, and instead empathise and have a compassionate perspective towards those being harassed or bullied.

Thus, it is imperative to create safe support systems for people who are going through it to break that cycle of emotional and social isolation that puts victims at the brink of mental illness. In doing so, victims stand a better chance when it comes to countering harassment and fighting off perpetrators of harassment.

Digital Rights Foundation established Pakistan's first Cyber Harassment Helpline to help the victims and survivors of online harassment in seeking help and to ensure that they get the support they need in their ordeal. The helpline can be reached at the toll-free number 0800-39393 from Monday to Friday at 9 am to 5 pm. The helpline support staff can also be reached at helpdesk@digitalrightsfoundation.pk. The services of the helpline are free-of-cost and the queries are dealt in complete confidentiality.

Author: Jannat Fazal