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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 ( 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”.


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  

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


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 The services of the helpline are free-of-cost and the queries are dealt in complete confidentiality.

Author: Jannat Fazal

April 05, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF Submits Reponses for the UN Secretary-General Report on the Safety of Journalists

DRF Submits Reponses for the UN Secretary-General Report on the Safety of Journalists

Digital Rights Foundation made its submission to the UN Secretary General report on the safety of journalists on the issue of impunity. In the responses, DRF pointed out that female journalists are susceptible to discrimination and gender-based obstacles both from within their professional spaces and outside it. Female journalists in Pakistan face a double-bind because of their gender: at one level they face the same level of threats and surveillance that journalists face in Pakistan (the fourth most dangerous country for journalist according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)), and the secondly the gender-specific obstacles stemming from being a female journalist in Pakistan. Their reporting on so-called sensitive topics such as civil-military relationships, blasphemy laws, and stories contradicting the state narrative make them more susceptible to state and social surveillance.

Within Pakistan, the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010 protects female journalists from discrimination and harassment within the workplace. The impact of this law is not as clear-cut. Journalists who have the lodged sexual harassment complaints within media houses have faced a backlash at times.

In terms of international humanitarian law violations, journalists are quite susceptible to conflict driven violence and attacks from terrorists, sectarian groups and armed operations. Many journalists have lost their lives while covering events that have been attacked. Compensation in these cases takes place as per labour and social security laws. There have been several proposal for the protection and welfare of journalists but nothing concrete has been passed.

Through our research “Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan”, we have learnt that media houses are far from perfect when it comes to addressing rampant sexism within the organization. The respondents in our research told us that these organizations are not equipped to support women when they file cases of sexual harassment. Furthermore, female journalists posit that line managers and editors tend not to take online abuse and digital surveillance as seriously, especially when it hasn’t translated into physical threats. This puts female journalists at a huge disadvantage because they are more likely to receive physiological threats and surveillance.

Digital Rights Foundation conducts workshops and training sessions for female journalists. Often times digital security and self care is a neglected aspect of security for journalists and a facet that is often ignored in mainstream discussions. For this reason DRF sees itself as addressing a real gap in terms of safety of journalists. These sessions are being held in conjunction with press clubs to deliver basic anti-harassment and digital security training to reporters, editors and web-based journalists. A digital security handbook (living document) for journalists has also been developed as part of our training program with basic security guidelines and tips for female journalists.

April 05, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF’s Submission to UN Human Rights Commission For The Report To Bridge Gender Digital Divide

DRF’s Submission to UN Human Rights Commission For The Report To Bridge Gender Digital Divide

Digital Rights Foundation submitted responses to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to prepare a report on ways to bridge gender digital divide from a human rights perspective. In its submission, DRF identified the dire need to address the digital divide promoted by gender, and that women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of their position in society, workplace and even in relation to their own families with the same wage bracket. For these reasons barrier to digital technologies and digital life are more enhanced for women.

Political reasons also act as barriers to access to digital technologies. For instance, the internet has been shut down in FATA for security reasons, as well as to silence political dissent. While this might seem like gender-neutral factor, our research has found that women are more impacted by such politically motivated shutdowns given that they cannot travel to internet cafes that have sprung up in the region.

Digital Rights Foundation has also been critical of applications geared towards women. Several smart-phone applications are emerging that are aimed specifically at women, both by the state and the private sector, and there is a need to critically analyse the claims that these apps make regarding increased security for women. Furthermore, as space opens up in Pakistan for web-based delivery of services, DRF is engaging in research that aims to highlight the privacy violations as well the impact on the women who use these services. This is precisely why DRF is working towards privacy and data protection legislation that will ensure more rights for users and protect vulnerable groups, such as women, from surveillance and discrimination.

The recommendations that DRF proposed to bridge digital gender divide emphasized on the importance to make the industry stakeholders aware of their responsibility to ensure better privacy policies when it comes to the personal data of users. Data breaches and violations of privacy can have serious consequences for women. In Pakistan, with the absence of data protection laws and obligations, it is even more important to engage with the industry and communicate their responsibility in protecting users’ data and right to privacy.

The tech community should take measures to ensure the promotion of more women to leadership positions and to have more representation from women and marginalized communities. This representation is important because the presence of women will mean more gender-sensitive policies and a better understanding of the issues that women face. it is important to ensure that the companies working towards gender issues and on gender empowerment engage with these themes meaningfully rather than superficial efforts or as marketing ploys. Many tech companies own social media platforms which are the primary site of online harassment, bullying, blackmail and violence. These companies need to have contextually-sensitive policies for protecting the privacy, dignity and personal integrity of women in online spaces. Tech companies also need to ensure that efforts to ensure accessibility should be done in the principle of net neutrality and the principle of free access should be upheld in efforts to improve coverage and accessibility.

April 04, 2017 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation Submits Universal Periodic Review 2017 Report for Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation Submits Universal Periodic Review 2017 Report for Pakistan

Digital Rights Foundation made a submission for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Pakistan 2017 on the topic of “Gender Rights in Pakistan: Online violence, Free Speech and Access to Information”. The aim of this submission was to advocate for the digital-specific rights for the citizens of Pakistan. The report incorporated the issues of gendered digital violence, digital rights, freedom of expression (FOE), privacy, violence against women and surveillance.

The report highlighted the issues of digital rights and violence with regards to women and sexual minorities, including the right to speech in online spaces, right to privacy, freedom from digital surveillance, electronic violence against women (eVAW), and access to digital technologies and spaces. The submission refers to the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular Freedom of Expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice”.

The report addresses the need to apply a gendered perspective to digital rights, and recommendations need to be injected into the UPR process that specifically address eVAW and the digital gender divide. It outlines the major incidents and advancements around access to digital technology, including the lowest internet usage density in Pakistan, the suspension of telecom and internet services, and the gender gap in usage and ownership of mobile phones in Pakistan. It also highlights that women, especially women journalists, women human rights defenders and activists, experience internet different from men. They are denied access to spaces due to gender disparity, stereotypical and cultural expectations on how women should behave online, cyber harassment, sexualised threats and violence stemming from online activities-impeding women’s right to free speech online, political participation, information and association.

The submission report states that since the last UPR submission process, Pakistan’s situation of free speech has declined both online and offline due to a concerted effort on part of the GOP to regulate online spaces. With the passage of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), the government has been granted sweeping powers on the online content. Whereas, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) Ordinance 2002 allows PEMRA to regulate speech and programming on electronic media. It also mentions the patterns of censorship by the Government of Pakistan on multiple occasions without prior notices and further explanations.

Lastly, the report puts forward the recommendations to ensure the gender based digital rights in Pakistan. These recommendations include campaigns specifically for women to increase digital literacy in rural areas, ensuring affordable and unhindered access to the internet and electronic devices, providing cheaper and subsidized internet access to women along with special discounts to promote the ownership of internet connections among women, amending or repealing legislation that violates Pakistan’s international obligations regarding freedom of expression, setting up dedicated departments for online violence against women in FIA's Cyber Crime Wing (Nr3C) and other law enforcing agencies (LEAs) with increased female staff and properly gender-sensitized officers, legislating data protection law in line with international human rights principles, and awareness campaigns around online harassment, digital security, and the mechanisms in place to address it.

April 04, 2017 - Comments Off on Yet Another Year at RightsCon, and It Was Big!

Yet Another Year at RightsCon, and It Was Big!

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) was at RightsCon - the world leading 3-day event to discuss the future of the internet - organised by Access Now from March 29 to March 31, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. During the event, DRF hosted four sessions that discussed different issues relating to the safe and fair access to the internet. As mentioned here, the sessions reflected on what all DRF had been doing the past whole year.

On March 28, Nighat Dad participated in the panel discussion at EU Parliament titled "Tech and Foreign Policy - Bridging the Gap: Focus on Digital Development" on Day 0 of Rights Con 2017. The discussion was live-streamed here.

The panel was moderated by Marietje Schaake (Member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands). The panelists were Nighat Dad (Digital Rights Foundation Pakistan, Time Next Generation Leader), Linda Corugedo Steneberg (DG Connect, European Commission) and Mitchel Baker (Mozilla, Internet Hall of Fame).

Nighat EU Parliament

The panel sought to discuss the direction of digital development with reference to principles of human rights, equality and net neutrality. The panelists also discussed the role of the European Union in encouraging digital development worldwide.

Nighat Dad spoke about the need to link digital rights to economic and trade incentives such as the GSP+ and other initiatives by monitoring human rights violations. Nighat also spoke about the shrinking digital spaces for dissent and activism in Pakistan, and the world in general. Talking about the global trends, she referred to the US laptop ban as a violation of digital rights stating that "it is not only a laptop ban, it's a Muslim laptop ban".

Nighat EU Parliament 2

Nighat shed light on extra-judicial measures to silence voices online: "this not self-censorship, it is forced censorship". She talked about the "draconian" cyber crime act passed in August 2016 and the effect that it has for journalism and free speech.

Nighat also talked about the need for social media companies to be transparent in their dealings with governments, urging them to be accountable to their users.

The first session titled “Taking Matters into Our Hands: Addressing Online Harassment Through [Tools]” took place on March 29, 2017. The panel discussed the different tools and strategies developed in different contexts to address online harassment. The panel was moderated by Wafa Ben Hassine - the Policy Analyst at Access Now, and the speakers included Nighat Dad - the Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation, Elsa Saade - Human Rights Officer at Gulf Human Rights Center in Beirut, Gulsin Harman from, and Meg Hood - Rapid Response Coordinator for the Civil Society Centre for Digital Resilience.

During the session, Nighat Dad shared the tools and activities that Digital Rights Foundation has been introducing and implementing in Pakistan, including Pakistan’s first Cyber Harassment Helpline. Nighat emphasized on the fact that even though 60% of our callers are women, but the other 30% are men which depicts that online harassment affects everyone regardless of their gender identity.

Wafa Ben Hassine added that tools alone can’t address the issue of online harassment, but talking to people on ground can help in identifying where the problem lies.

Elsa Saade pointed out that while developing new tools would be a great approach, but it’s important to analyse why the already existing tools around addressing online harassment are failing.


Gulsin Harman shared that women journalists in Turkey face online harassment on a daily basis, and when they decide to report the harassment, they get harassed by the law enforcing agents themselves. While the situation isn’t different in Pakistan, this attitude and lack of gender sensitisation among the LEAs convince women to not speak about their experiences of online harassment.

Online harassment leaves a strong impact on the mental health of victim/survivor who experiences it, and the lack of awareness around the issue among people makes the experience more critical. Hija Kamran of Digital Rights Foundation adds that while access to the internet and technology is necessary, awareness around the informed use of that technology becomes crucial too.

The second session that Digital Rights Foundation was about an issue that’s not very debated in the context of Pakistan, but holds a great importance towards the access to the internet. The session titled “Net Neutrality and its Future in the Developing World” was taken place on March 30, 2017. The panel was moderated by Raman Jit Singh Chima - Policy Director at Access Now, and the speakers included Gbenga Sesan - Executive Director at Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Agustin Reyna - Senior Legal Officer at BEUC, Apar Gupta and Kiran Jonnalagadda - Co-Founders of Internet Freedom Foundation India, Serene Lim - APC Impact Coordinator for Malaysia, and Nighat Dad - Executive Director at Digital Rights Foundation.

NN Panel Poster


The panelists discussed the many aspects of Net Neutrality and why is it important to talk about it.

Apar Gupta, who is the volunteering founder of the remarkable campaign #savetheinternet in India and the Co-Founder of Internet Freedom Foundation said that Net Neutrality should not be taken as a separate issue and should not be left for another time, but instead it should be discussed as part of the larger debate.

Hija Kamran of Digital Rights Foundation adds that open access to the internet is a human right and it should be granted to everyone in a fair and open form without prioritising one content over the other.

Apar Gupta and Kiran Jonnalagadda also added that the Government of India received 1.2 million responses on their Net Neutrality public consultation, which also included a love letter. The government published all those responses for the public to access.

Gbenga Sesan added that the government needs to be convinced that infrastructure isn’t just about building the roads but also about technological access too.

When asked how the concept of Net Neutrality can be communicated with those who are not on the internet but have access to the technology, Agustin Reyna responded that you need to communicate in their own language, the right language for them to understand better.


Raman Jit Singh Chima asks the important question: Do people need a triggering event to safeguard the rights like Net Neutrality considering that internet is an open platform and it should be provided to all without paid prioritisation of content.

Surveillance Panel Poster

The third session hosted by Digital Rights Foundation revolved around discussing Surveillance and Privacy from the Margins. The session took place on March 30, 2017. It was moderated by Jessica Dheere, the co-founder and co-director of SMEX, and the panelists included Nighat Dad, David Kaye - UNSR on Freedom of Expression, Bruce Schneier - world renowned cryptographer, Chinmayi Arun - Research Director at National Law University Delhi India, Courtney Radsch - Advocacy Director at Committee to Protect Journalists, and Carolina Botero - Director at Karisma Foundation.


The panel aimed at discussing the gendered nature of surveillance and intended to acknowledge that the experience of surveillance is not uniform, i.e. it depends on the identity of the person being surveilled. Through this panel we want to understand the particular kinds of surveillance experienced by women and the sexualized and gendered ways in which it manifests itself when applied to women's bodies.

The panel also discussed privacy as security and how data protection and privacy laws need to be strengthened and how a breach of privacy can have dire consequences for individuals.


Jessica Dheere kick-started the panel by asking some very important questions about how surveillance changes based on the power dynamics and how does it affect the people of colour and minorities in any society?

Courtney Radsch added the experience from journalist's’ perspective, saying that it leads to self-censorship.

She also discussed the increased surveillance on US border that violates people’s right to privacy.

Nighat Dad added the perspective of Surveillance and Privacy in the context Pakistan and used Qandeel Baloch - the slain social media celebrity - example that her murder was incited after her privacy was violated by the mainstream and social media.

She also added that the increased surveillance is promoted by the easy availability of surveillance technology that widespread the practice.

Bruce Shneier - Image Courtesy @AToker

Bruce Schneier discussed the technical aspects of surveillance and said that it’s not easy to track the small surveillance technologies. He also added that power dynamics play a major role in the context of surveillance and that it often gets lost in the discussions.

Bruce also added that surveillance is almost unavoidable and is used as a weapon. He also emphasized that your mobile phone and camera is someone else tracking device. He added that it should also be viewed from the perspective of refugees and minorities.

Whereas, David Kaye added that there are different kinds of surveillance like state surveillance, non-state surveillance, social surveillance, and others, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid targeted surveillance.


David Kaye - Image Courtesy @AToker

He emphasized on the fact that the current law and order situation of the world reduces people’s right to privacy and restricts their anonymity. He also added that surveillance is the issue of the masses and not just of targeted groups.

Kaye urges that surveillance will continue but what’s important is that people keep pushing governments to justify it on human rights grounds. He furthered his talk by adding that journalists, women, LGBT community are most harmed by surveillance.

Harassment Goes Deadly Panel Poster

The fourth and last panel of Digital Rights Foundation at RightsCon talked about online harassment in the global north vs global south. The panel titled “Harassment Goes Deadly: the Global North vs Global South” took place on March 31, 2017. The panel was moderated by Bishakha Datta - Co-Founder of Point of View India, and the panelists included Hera Hussain - Co-Founder of Chayn Labs, Nanjira Sambuli - Digital Equality Advocacy Manager for World Wide Web Foundation, Emily May - Co-Founder and Executive Director at HollaBack, Japleen Pasricha - Founder of Feminism in India, Susan Benesch - Project Director at Dangerous Speech Project, and Nighat Dad - Executive Director at Digital Rights Foundation.

The panel was live streamed by Chayn Labs on their Facebook page and it aimed at discussing online violence which is usually seen as a problem for the so-called “backward societies” around the world. The narrative goes that women and vulnerable communities in the third world are particularly susceptible to honour and gender-based crimes. High profile cases of online harassment leading to violence in offline spaces is seen as a reflection of an entire culture in the Global South, whereas it is couched in less cultural and societal terms in the North. The fact of the matter is that online violence against women is a global and universal problem.


This panel discussed the realities of online violence which are as serious a problem in the Global North as they are in the Global South.

Bishakha Datta started the discussion with the introduction of the panel followed by the talk by Hera Hussain. According to Hera, Chayn is operating in 12 countries, a lot changes with geography but online harassment is common everywhere. She added that women are particularly vulnerable on social media to the point that they often end up making multiple profile. n Pakistan, women get killed for getting harassed online.

Because Hera works in multiple societies both from global north and global south, she added that the only difference in experiences of online harassment in the north vs south is that the people in the developed part of the world are more aware and know how to react to a certain situation.

Japleen Pasricha did a research on online violence in 2016, where she interviewed around 500 women in India. According to her, online violence isn’t just receiving photos of penis in your inbox or unsolicited content. In fact online violence is also getting trolled for days which often results in the victim/survivor leaving the social media sphere for days.

Japleen says that she uses the word ‘violence’ because online harassment is a form of violence where the victim or the survivor experiences a huge level of emotional and psychological stress that can’t be explained by any other term than ‘violence’.

Nighat Dad furthered the discussion by questioning the inadequate steps taken by the social media companies to counter online harassment. She said that the reason why Digital Rights Foundation started the cyber Harassment Helpline was because there was no help available to the victims of cyber harassment, not on state level, not from the social media companies. And the fact that it leaves a serious impact on the mental health of the victim, steps have to be taken by someone.

Nanjira Sambuli believes that online harassment is a lifelong issue, and what the survivors and those working on countering the issue requires is support from the people around them and in their societies. The solutions around countering online harassment should have sustainable models. She further added that women, in Kenya, are ranked on the basis of how pretty they are rather than how capable or successful they are.

Susan Benesch asks how can the impact of harassment on women be lessen and the cost of harassing a women be increased? She says that there’s not just one kind of harassers. There are people who are dedicated harassers, who wake up in the morning to troll someone online with malicious intent. Then there are people who jump the bandwagon, they see others causing verbal and psychological harm to someone, they start doing it as well.

Bishakha Datta pointed out that in India, women are asked to leave social media if they’re getting harassed online. Leaving social media to avoid online harassment is like asking women to not go out to avoid street harassment. The need is to address the problem and then counter it from the very roots.

This concluded another successful participation of Digital Rights Foundation at RightsCon. With that being said, we hope to take these important discussions forward and into the real world to take solution-led steps towards countering the issues pertaining to digital rights.

Written by Hija Kamran

March 25, 2017 - Comments Off on We’re Coming to RightsCon2017 and It’s Going To Be Big!

We’re Coming to RightsCon2017 and It’s Going To Be Big!

Every year, Access Now brings together digital rights activists from around the world in the world's leading event for the future of the internet - RightsCon Summit. And Digital Rights Foundation is thrilled to announce that just like the past few years, we'll be hosting a series of sessions at the conference this year and they'll be the reflection of what the team of DRF has been busy with in 2016.

First, here's a little background. The past year, we’ve been busy analysing the data protection and privacy situation in Pakistan and advocating for data protection laws and safe access to the internet. We concluded our year-long project “Hamara Internet” (Urdu for “Our Internet”) that trained over 2000 women from around the country on digital security and tools to counter cyber harassment, which ultimately led to the launch of Pakistan’s first Cyber Harassment Helpline in December 2016. We also launched two research studies -Telecoms Privacy and Data Protection Policies in Pakistan, and Surveillance of Female Journalists in Pakistan, along with a lot of other activities that had our attention throughout.

RightsCon Invite Website

Digital Rights Foundation’s sessions at RightsCon will be the reflection of all these activities, along with the discussion on some new challenges that are necessary to be addressed at the earliest. With this being said, here are the sessions that we’re hosting at the conference and hope for your participation if you're in Belgium, and support if you're in other parts of the world:


When: March 29, 2017 - 4 PM to 5 PM
Where: Clarity, 8th Floor - Le Crowne Plaza, Brussels, Belgium

This panel will discuss the different tools and strategies developed in different contexts to address online harassment. The discussion will be action and policy-oriented, looking to discuss solutions. The panel will have speakers from different geographic locations and organisations who will talk about the situation of cyber harassment in their respective regions and also the tools that they’ve applied (or intend to apply) to counter the said harassment.

The speakers line-up for this panel so far is:

Nighat Dad - Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan


  • Elsa Saade - Gulf Center for Human Rights, Lebanon
  • Wafa Ben Hassine - Access Now


When: March 30, 2017 - 10:30 AM to 11:45 AM
Where: Harmony, First Floor - Le Crowne Plaza, Brussels, Belgium

This panel aims at discussing the highly-debated principles of Net Neutrality and Zero Rating and their situation in the developing world, in contrast with that in the developed countries. The session intends to address the problems and discuss the best laws and practices around Net Neutrality and how it affects the open and fair access to the internet, user experiences of the internet, user data privacy and protection protocols, and also the future of the internet in reference to Net Neutrality and paid-prioritisation of content online.

The confirmed speakers for this panel so far are:

Moderator: Raman Jit Singh Chima - Access Now


  • Hija Kamran - Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
  • Apar Gupta and Kiran Jonnalagadda - Internet Freedom Festival, India
  • Agustin Reyna - BEUC, Belgium
  • Gbenga Sesan - Paradigm Initiative Nigeria, Nigeria


When: March 30, 2017 - 5:15 PM to 6:15 PM
Where: Klimt, Ground Floor - Le Crowne Plaza, Brussels, Belgium

The panel hopes to discuss the different kinds of surveillance and the gendered nature of surveillance all over the world. The conversation will also be focused on how data protection and privacy laws need to be strengthened and how a breach of privacy can have dire consequences for individuals.

The confirmed speakers for this session so far are:

Moderator: Nighat Dad - Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan


  • David Kaye - UNSR Freedom of Expression
  • Chinmayi Arun - National Law University, India
  • Carolina Botero - Karisma Foundation, Colombia
  • Courtney Radsch - Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)


When: March 31, 2017 - 4 PM to 5 PM
Where: Innovation, First Floor - Le Crowne Plaza, Brussels, Belgium

This panel aims at discussing online violence that is usually seen as a problem for the so-called “backward societies” around the world. The narrative goes that women and vulnerable communities in the third world are particularly susceptible to honour and gender-based crimes. High profile cases of online harassment leading to violence in offline spaces is seen as a reflection of an entire culture in the Global South, whereas it is couched in less cultural and societal terms in the North. The fact of the matter is that online violence against women is a global and universal problem.

There needs to be an open and honest debate of this culture-based critique mounted at the global south. Speakers from both side of the divide will come together on this panel to discuss the similarities and overlap between online violence around the world.

The confirmed speakers for this panel so far are:

Moderator: Hija Kamran - Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan


  • Nanjira Sambuli - World Wide Web Foundation, Kenya
  • Bishakha Datta - Point of View, India
  • Japleen Pasricha - Feminism in India, India
  • Hera Hussain - Chayn Labs

After the consultation with the experts at these sessions and with your valuable participation, we hope to take the conversations forward and move towards taking necessary steps to preserve digital rights and making the internet safe and accessible for everyone.

See you at RightsCon!

Written by Hija Kamran

March 06, 2017 - Comments Off on Fake News, Obscenity, and Cyber Harassment: February ’17

Fake News, Obscenity, and Cyber Harassment: February ’17

February 2017 wasn't an easy ride for digital rights here in Pakistan. As we still await one of the five missing bloggers to return home, the law enforcement has been busy taking away citizens' rights to speak online under the draconian laws, poor journalism ethics ruled the TV screens and caused chaos in the country, and Digital Rights Foundation's Cyber Harassment Helpline completed its 3 months of operation. Here's a round up of the incidents that had out attention!

Samar Abbas: Still Missing

While it came to light at the end of January that 4 of the missing activists had returned home, Samar Abbas still missing remains missing. Samar’s disappearance has been linked to the series of enforced disappearances of activists and bloggers at the start of January--Samar was reported missing 11th January, 2017. Given the lack of information by the state authorities and the returned activists themselves, there is no clarity on why the activists were picked up or the reason Samar in particular remains missing.

Samar’s wife, Najamus Sahar, has spoken about the emotional toll the disappearance has taken on her family.

IMG-20170112-WA0030 (1)

In a petition directed at the missing bloggers, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, through a single bench at the Islamabad High Court, ordered the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority to block pages or websites containing blasphemous material on social media. It is unclear how this order will be interpreted by the PTA. Furthermore, if the PTA chooses to follow the order what criteria is being used to determine content as blasphemous? While the PTA is at it, it would be great it they can also remove material containing hate speech against minorities and marginalised communities.

The Trend of Fake News and its Aftermath

The term “fake news” has been weaponised by the current US president to target any news outlet that dares to fact-check him, however it has also become a referential point of analysis for pervasive news items and rumours that are demonstratively wrong, yet are still shared on social media and even picked up by the mainstream media. In times of mass confusion and lack of trust in official statements, fake news can become an agent of panic and paranoia. In the aftermath of the Lahore Defence bomb blast/cylinder explosion (there is still no clarity on which of these is fake news), panic gripped the streets of Lahore as social media, mainstream news channels and WhatsApp groups were inundated by the news of a bomb blast in Gulberg. 31 news channels were initially served a notice by PEMRA in the wake of this incident, out of which 29 news channels are fined and asked to air an apology on March 6th, 2017 between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM in the same magnitude as the fake news was aired.

PEMRA Apology notice

For more clarity on fake news and how to counter it, read Hija Kamran’s post “F is for Fake News!” for DRF here.

Arrest of Nasir Khan Jan and "Obscenity" as a tool for Censorship

Social media celebrity Nasir Khan Jan is known for his videos and covers. However on 8th February, 2017 was arrested and detained by the Police on grounds of “obscenity”. While he was granted bail by a lower court in Lower Dir on 11th February, 2017, his case has been referred to the Cyber Crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA).


The police has informed the media that he was arrested under Section 107 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which deals with “instigation” of others. It is unclear what exactly the police are accusing Nasir Khan Jan of doing. This is a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression in online spaces and a case in which the vague terminology of obscenity is being used to intimidate online personalities.

Read DRF’s statement condemning the arrest here.

Cyber Harassment Helpline completes in third month!

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline has marks 3 months of successful operations. Launched on 1st December, 2017, the Helpline has handled over 358 complaints in the short span of its operations. The Helpline Team hopes to expand and improve its services and outreach. Several innovative approaches towards outreach have already been taken.

The detailed report on the Cyber Harassment Helpline's first 3 months will be launched in coming days.