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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.

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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).

nasir

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.

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February 08, 2017 - Comments Off on Internet Freedom, Public Threats, and the Year Ahead

Internet Freedom, Public Threats, and the Year Ahead

January 2017 was one eventful month at Digital Rights Foundation. From protests for and return of the missing activists to hate speech by an acclaimed TV host on live television, from the launch of anti-harassment mobile application by Punjab Government to blocking of a satire website - DRF team has been busy at work throughout. And here's a round-up of all the activities that had our attention:

Missing Activists:

The month of January started out with the troublesome news that five activists had gone missing from Pakistan. Salman Haider (Islamabad), Ahmed Raza Naseer (Nankana), Ahmed Waqas Goraya (Lahore), Aasim Saeed (Lahore) and Samar Abbas (Karachi) all disappeared in the first month of the new year. The reason for their disappearance is still unclear but it is likely that they were targeted on the basis of their online speech. Civil society activists conducted protests all across Pakistan in the wake of these disappearances, and international pressure was also mounted on the government. Digital Rights Foundation also took part in the protest in Lahore.

IMG-20170112-WA0030 (1)By the end of January, reports surfaced that the missing activists had made contact with their families. There are several unanswered questions regarding the disappearances and many of the returned are reluctant to speak out about their ordeal. One of the activists had left the country following his release.

Another worrying aspect of these disappearances were the concerted social media campaigns to malign these missing activists, one that was backed up by the mainstream media and presenters, such as Amir Liaquat.

Amir Liaquat, Free Speech and PEMRA

Amir Liaquat is the host of the program “Aisa Nahi Chalay Ga” on Bol TV. In the month of January, has been accusing several activists and journalists of anti-Pakistani activities as well as levelling blasphemy charges against progressive voices.

After thousands of complaints from citizens, PEMRA (the regulatory agency for electronic media), issued an order banned Amir Liaquat’s appearance any TV channel:

PEMRA's Order to BOL TV

PEMRA's Order to BOL TV

Bol TV however did not immediately comply with PEMRA’s order and continued to air Amir Liaquat’s show despite the hate speech and incendiary content of his speeches.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has come down hard on Bol and the channel signed an undertaking pledging not to air Amir Liaquat’s show until further notice by the court.

Khabristan Times Blocked in Pakistan

KT

Pakistan’s satire publication, Khabaristan Times (KT) has been blocked in Pakistan since January 25.

Digital Rights Foundation strongly condemned the ban in its official statement and stands in solidarity with the publication.

 

Statement by KT

Statement by KT

Initiatives by the Punjab Government

16684669_1189689211129997_672714307_nThe Punjab government launched its Women Safety Smart Phone Application. The app was launched on January 4, 2017 by the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) in collaboration with the Punjab Commission on Status of Women. This application allows allows users to send notifications to the Police Integrated Command, Control and Communication (PPIC3) if there is an incident of harassment and security forces will be dispatched to the location immediately. The application also allows users to mark places and locations as “unsafe”, which will help authorities in planning activities and other users as well.

Digital Rights Foundation attended the launch event for the application. We shall follow up with the developers and the authorities regarding our problems with permissions and privacy policies of the application. The fact that the application gains access to a lot of personal data as displayed in the permissions section, the onus is on the authorities to assure citizens about why the data is collected and how it is securely stored.
WhatsApp Image 2017-02-08 at 13.03.23 (1)WhatsApp Image 2017-02-08 at 13.03.23

The Punjab government also launched around 192 hotspots in three big cities of the province, including Lahore, Rawalpindi and Multan. According to reports, in order to log in citizens will be required to given their name, date of birth, profession and mobile number. Digital Rights Foundation is also concerned about the information that this required for this service and the monitoring of online activity with users are logged into the service.

Internet Shutdown persists in FATA

Digital Rights Foundation was recently alerted to the fact that internet services in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been suspended since June 12, 2016. This denial of internet access to a large segment of Pakistan’s population has gone unexplained by the authorities, and DRF will continue to highlight the issue until services are adequately restored.
You can read our blog post on the issue here.

Safer Internet Day

DRF organized a workshop on account of international Safer Internet Day on the 7th of February in Beaconhouse School System Boys Branch. Seerat Khan, Jannat Fazal and Huda Jilani conducted the workshop with the enthusiastic secondary school students, which was based on cyberbullying and the safety measures children should adopt while using the internet. During the workshop, children also designed posters and wrote about how they felt about cyberbullying. The need of these workshops in schools was recognized and a survey was also conducted to understand the nature of cyberbullying in schools. DRF hopes to expand the project to more schools in the near future.
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English Works opening ceremony in Karachi

16142511_10154272452578870_7361294837987059840_nOn January 18, 2017, Hija Kamran - Communications Manager at Digital Rights Foundation, spoke to the students at English Works opening ceremony - a six month English learning course - organised by Evolution in partnership with the U.S. Consulate General Karachi. During her talk, Hija emphasized on the importance and need of Women Rights in Digital Spaces, Cyber Harassment, and how to counter the said harassment. Along with this, Hija also discussed the harassment that Qandeel Baloch faced, and the harassment that 22 year old Naila Rind faces for three months which ultimately led her to commit suicide in her hostel room.
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Seminar by Search for Justice - CAN Pakistan

Huda Jilani, Program Assistant at Digital Rights Foundation, was a speaker and panelist at a seminar conducted by Search for Justice (an initiative by CAN Pakistan) and the Social Work Department at Lahore College University for Women on January 18, 2017. The seminar focused on Online Harassment specifically in context of social media and ways and strategies to avoid it. Mr. Shahid Hassan, a representative of the FIA, was also a speaker at the event.
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Harassment as a Legal Concept in Cyber Law

Shmyla Khan, the Project Head of Cyber Harassment Helpline at Digital Rights Foundation writes,
"Harassment, unfortunately, is a fact of life for many women in spaces other than the place of work. Most public spaces are hostile environments for women. It is for this reason that street harassment is also criminalised under section 509 the PPC in Pakistan. It comes as no surprise that cyber spaces are no different when it comes to the experience of women and minorities. Out of the 3027 cybercrime cases reported to the FIA during August 2014- August 2015, 45% involved electronic violence against women (e-VAW)."

Read the full article "Harassment as a Legal Concept in Cyber Law" here.


 

October 14, 2016 - Comments Off on After the Murder of Qandeel Baloch

After the Murder of Qandeel Baloch

Author: Hija Kamran

Nearly three months ago, people woke up to the news of Qandeel Baloch's murder by her brother in what was said to be an honour killing. The case caught the attention of the media and sparked debates around honour killings, privacy and women in the public eye. Recently, however, after the reports on her parents’ plight for help, it became apparent that the media attention had not translated into support for those left behind in wake of her murder.

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), after a crowd funding campaign, went to Multan to meet Qandeel’s parents (who were accompanied by their lawyer), only to find out that her 80 year old father Azeem Khan and mother Anwar Bibi were struggling to live in their house due to non-payment of rent – the same house where Qandeel, their sole support, was murdered. They left Multan soon after their daughter’s tragic death and were living in their village, Shah Sadar Din in Dera Ghazi Khan. The rent of the house and utility bills, however, were immediately paid with the help of the funding DRF raised in only three days with the help of Women’s Action Forum, The Feminist Collective and individual donors.

Qandeel was brutally strangled to death because she chose to lead her life differently. She had always been the victim of lack of journalistic ethics, when media personalities called her on TV for extra TRPs, and when her real identity, including her CNIC and Passport, was revealed to the world. She feared for her safety and sought police protection, which was denied to her.

Her lawyer, Safdar Shah told us about his conversation with Qandeel right before her death, where she raised concerns about her safety after her photos with Mufti Abdul Qavi had emerged. The conversation was later leaked to the media. The media even converged on her village, interviewing locals and disrespecting Qandeel’s wishes not to have her identity made public. This naturally raises the question of where does one draw a line between public curiosity and the right to an individual’s privacy. In a world where anyone can be tracked just by the pattern of their activities on social media, cashing in at the expense of somebody’s privacy meant, in this case, to put them at the mercy of murderers and so-called “flag bearers” of honour. In terms of the stakes that privacy holds, Qandeel’s story is not unique.

However, just three months down the road most of us have already moved on. But her parents are still in the same state of shock and misery after their own son killed their beloved daughter and the sole breadwinner of the household. As her father, Azeem Khan shared his ordeal with DRF, one could tell by his expressions, the persecution they’ve received from the people who were once dear to them. Azeem, who lost his leg in an accident six months ago, burst into tears as he recalled how Qandeel had planned to get him a prosthetic leg and in fact had plans to take him to the doctor the morning she was found murdered.

Watch as Qandeel's parents talk about the many aspects of Qandeel's life:

A woman who selflessly supported her family, who didn’t care about what others think of her; a woman who stood for her rights to expression and advocated for the rights of women, was often misunderstood to be an attention seeker. She was in fact a one woman army on a bigger mission of her own – to break the stereotypical image of women in a conservative society. Had she not done it, her poverty-stricken family would otherwise be living a miserable life. This very woman was killed by the man who she called her brother, who she’d been feeding and putting a roof over since she had started earning. And the feeble justification of this brutal murder was honour.

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Last week, however, the parliament approved anti-honour killing bill which was in fact catalysed after Qandeel’s murder. In a country where legal proceedings are generally slow, where some murders are even celebrated; associate ‘honour’ or ‘religion’ as the motive and you have a criminal glorified as a hero. And once the people are done celebrating a murderer, they start threatening the complainant and the heir of the victim to drop charges in exchange of blood money. However, in Qandeel’s case, after the state became a party in the FIR; if the parents were to withdraw the case, the state would step in and Section 311 of the Pakistan Penal Code (Ta'zir after waiver or compounding of right of qisas in qatl-i-amd) becomes active where the court retains the discretion to punish the defendant under ta’zir (secular punishment) for 10-14 years.

Nonetheless, under the new act of anti-honour killing, even though the life sentence of twelve and a half years is compulsory, the killer can be pardoned by the relatives of the victim. In such cases, there’s only so much laws can do. The strongly established ideologies of the people and the personal beliefs towards the principles they consider larger than life – say, honour and religion – usually affect the efficient applicability of the laws of the land. But all that can be done for now is to make sure that there’s no more violence against women, and that there’s no other Azeem Khan mourning the brutal death of another Qandeel Baloch.

In her own words,

"If you have a strong will power, definitely, nothing can let you go down."
RIP, Qandeel.

August 26, 2016 - Comments Off on Use An iPhone? Update it Now!

Use An iPhone? Update it Now!

If you own an iPhone, please a take a minute to read the following warning:

On Thursday, August 25th 2016, Apple released an urgent security update iOS, the operating system upon which your iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches run. This security update has been designed to fix three huge security gaps which exist on certain Apple devices. The gaps in iOS security can allow hackers to access almost every form of data on your device, without your knowledge, including: text messages, calender entries, emails, your location, your photos and much more. Most disturbingly, the software can remotely activate your device’s camera and microphone, without your knowledge. What Citizen Labs and others are calling “one of the most sophisticated pieces of cyberespionage software we’ve ever seen” has already been used in an attempt to infiltrate the iPhone of an UAE-based human rights activist, and may not have been discovered otherwise.

For your own safety, please update your devices, and ask others to do so as well. If you are uncertain as to how to do so, please do the following:

1. Go to “Settings.”

2. Choose “General.”

3. Click on “Software Update.”

4. Agree to update to iOS 9.3.5.

5. Done.

To read about this software, and what it means, please click below:

https://citizenlab.org/2016/08/million-dollar-dissident-iphone-zero-day-nso-group-uae/

https://motherboard.vice.com/read/government-hackers-iphone-hacking-jailbreak-nso-group

From a security perspective, Apple devices are regarded as being more secure than a majority of Android ones, especially with security measures implemented by Apple in favour of users. It is important, however, that people are not complacent - update security measures on your devices; update the latest patches; download apps only from official vendors i.e. the Apple App Store and Google's Play Store; do not automatically click on links or open attachments in messages from people you do not know, or whose email addresses you do not recognise.

August 11, 2016 - Comments Off on The PECB Passes. R.I.P. Online Freedom?

The PECB Passes. R.I.P. Online Freedom?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) has now become a reality. The National Assembly has approved a flawed and highly problematic drafted bill, and making it law.

This incarnation of the PECB had taken onboard a number of amended provisions that took onboard civil society input, but some of the most frightening and draconian provisions have still not been removed.

Digital Rights Foundation's Executive Director, Nighat Dad, said that "The cyber crime bill is a disaster that is being allowed to envelop the country. Our lawmakers have gone ahead with deeply problematic provisions despite being told time and again what the consequences may be."

This is a bill that has been roundly condemned by respected international and Pakistani human rights organisations and rights experts, including the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye. In December 2015, David Kaye wrote that if adopted,

"The Bill would also set penalties that would be disproportionate to the infractions and could serve, in practice, to stifle the right to freedom of expression.”

The law contains provisions that violate freedom of expression, and most people still have no idea as to what the law holds for them, how it will impact their lives. The terms and definitions that populate the bill, such as that for “cyberstalking”, have been defined so loosely, that they can be interpreted extremely broadly, ensnaring anyone. The government and the designers of the bill have not taken steps to make people aware of the bill and its consequences, thereby ensuring that Pakistani citizens are now vulnerable and at risk from a heavily flawed and punitive bill.

The bill has been framed countless times as ostensibly protecting the people of Pakistan from cyberterrorism, hate speech, and other electronic crimes. In reality, however, the manner in which the bill defines each is exasperating in its vagueness, and lack of nuance or understanding of freedom of expression rights of Pakistanis.

One provision, Section 34, gives the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) generous powers to remove or block access to information, as it sees fit,

“if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality”

The PTA has thus so far not demonstrated that it is capable of making such a decision, one that has serious ramifications for the democratic right to the freedom of expression in Pakistan, in a manner that takes into account what the consequences can and will be. In the past blanket bans that have been instituted under the garb of “morality”’ have ended up creating more problems than fixing them. For instance, doctors lost access to valuable and vital online content that related to anything having to do with the female anatomy.

This legislation has been framed as protecting the people. The reality is that it can be used to heavily censor the internet that Pakistanis are familiar with, to ensure that democratic discourse in Pakistan loses another safe space. The state will not need to step in and intimidate people to refrain from the “wrong sort” of speech online: the draconian penalties described in the bill will do the government’s work. It ensures that what safe spaces the minorities of Pakistan had found online will cease to exist, or come under heavy fire. People that were afraid of taking to the streets would use the internet and social media to make sure that their voices were heard. When this safe space is taken away by a state that purports to be protecting them, where else can they and others go?

There has been a degree of apathy and exhaustion. The belief that the law will not be implemented anyway, so why all the fuss? The fuss is that it retains the very great potential of being abused by many people, given its overly broad language and heavy penalties. It can be used to curb freedom of expression that would call truth to power, rather than help the people as the bill’s supporters claim. It is that potential for encroaching abuse and overreach of powers that Digital Rights Foundation and others have been fighting against.

The Government of Pakistan has said that this legislation is meant to protect Pakistanis. The reality is that it criminalises the fundamental rights that are enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, taking the nation further down the path to total surveillance, and the lost of freedom.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2016, passed on August 11, 2016.

August 03, 2016 - Comments Off on CM Sindh Chooses Whatsapp: Is This A Good Idea?

CM Sindh Chooses Whatsapp: Is This A Good Idea?

A few days ago, the newly appointed Chief Minister of Sindh, Murad Ali Shah, created a Whatsapp group, with the express purpose of keeping an eye on the daily activities of members of the Sindh Assembly’s cabinet (who have been added to the group) and to stay up to date on their tasks.

At first glance, this is a fairly innocuous and useful decision by the Chief Minister - it appears to save time and money on the part of taxpayers; it is a more efficient and effective means of getting Sindh’s lawmakers to coordinate matters; default end-to-end encryption ensures that their conversations are protected. Pakistan’s government is not known for its adoption of new technology, contrary to oft-repeated announcements to the contrary. In light of that, would this not be a good move?

There are problems however, once we look more closely at the situation.

One issue, for instance, pertains to the backing up of Whatsapp conversations and media. While conversations themselves are encrypted, and assuming that members of the group are indeed aware that their conversations will be backed up, the backup formats used - depending on the device used - lead to their data being exposed. iCloud (for Whatsapp on iPhone) and Google Drive (for Android users) can allow Whatsapp conversations to be accessed in plain text format, as outlined here. Usage of Web Whatsapp - a feature that lets you read and type Whatsapp messages through a desktop or laptop browser - furthermore, ensures that messages shared can be read if the computer itself is available to anyone with access.

Access to information is a key factor here, especially in regards to who should or should have it. People that have shared documents et al in the group and have downloaded them to their devices will still keep them on said devices if they leave the group or indeed the government, whether by choice or by dismissal.

Public access to information is also impacted by total reliance on closed communication solutions like Whatsapp. The minutes of physical meetings held by government departments, can be accessed by the public if post on their respective websites under the proactive disclosure - virtual group meetings cannot be, unless a member of a Whatsapp group decides to provide the information themselves.

The Chief Minister is not the only lawmaker to utilise Whatsapp or other forms of messaging apps; it is more than likely that Whatsapp, Blackberry Messenger, Skype etc are being used, whether for official communications or for personal matters. What must be taken into account, by lawmakers is that if they support legislation like the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill - which has the potential to severely impact the privacy and freedom of expression rights of millions of inhabitants of Pakistan - they too run the risk of their privacy being under attack. Decades of harsh military rule have over the years resulted in the imprisonment of activists and politicians in the past, who are now respected members of the government, in part because of their freedom of expression and their right to privacy being violated.

Low-cost smartphones, fairly affordable data and internet packages, and open-source mobile operating systems in the form of Android have ensured that more people in Pakistan and across the globe have access to the internet and digital services than even a decade ago. As of May 2016, there are more than 133 million mobile subscribers in Pakistan. In this context, it is important for lawmakers to embrace newer technologies, in order to not just communicate more effectively with the public, but to also ensure that there is greater transparency of governmental procedure, and greater appreciation for the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.

This post was written by Hamza Irshad & Adnan Ahmad

July 28, 2016 - Comments Off on Despite Amendments proposed by the Senate, PECB continues to pose a threat to the fundamental rights of citizens

Despite Amendments proposed by the Senate, PECB continues to pose a threat to the fundamental rights of citizens

For Immediate Release:

Islamabad, 28 July 2016: Amendments proposed by Senate’s Standing Committee on IT and Telecommunications have failed to address key concerns regarding human rights violations raised by various civil society stakeholders. Civil Rights organisations that engaged with the senate committee on the matter, express concerns about the draft of Pakistan Electronic Crime Bill,2016, approved by the Senate Standing Committee on IT and Telecommunication.

Civil rights and industry stakeholders have engaged with the legislators since mid 2015, when this bill was first tabled in the National Assembly. Stakeholders have provided detailed inputs and recommendations, highlighting the potential human rights violations and suggesting alternates in line with constitutional provisions and international best practices. However, the Ministry of IT, has repeatedly dismissed these concerns.

The continued engagement with the civil society and other stakeholders has been possible due to the involvement of some parliamentarians, to whom we remain grateful. However, the most recent set of amendments is disheartening, as it continues to ignore the fundamental concerns raised during the consultations. We feel that the engagement and handwork of the stakeholders is being set aside to push through a law that is contradictory to constitutional rights, international best practices and lacks adequate safeguards and oversight to protect the citizens of Pakistan.

On the contrary, newer and harsher amendments have been added in the approved version. We are particularly concerned by the continued inclusion of Section 34, the dilution of real time surveillance processes that contradicts the process defined in Investigation for Fair Trial Act, the subjective description of hate speech and inclusion of an amendment that allows unfettered power to the Federal Investigation Agency, to generate and submit forensic evidence, instead of relying on an independent body as earlier recommended.

We would like to point out that all the meetings outlined by the committee, along with their given deadlines, were honoured by the civil society. We are deeply disturbed and alarmed that despite our best efforts the bill continues to incorporate provisions that pose a threat to our fundamental rights.

If passed in its current form the bill would be detrimental to civil liberties in Pakistan. It will allow unfettered power to law enforcement agencies and an executive authority to crackdown and criminalize free speech online.

As this approved version goes to the Senate for discussion, we urge Senators to stand up for our civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan and take into consider the amendments suggested by the relevant stakeholders, for the sake of continuation of the democratic process.

Signatures:

Digital Rights Foundation

Bolo Bhi

Bytes For all

Media Matters for Democracy

Freedom Network

IRADA

Courting The Law

NexDegree (Private) Ltd

Tahira Abdullah - Activist

Jibran Nasir – Activist

Never Forget Pakistan

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

July 20, 2016 - Comments Off on Invasion of Privacy & The Murder of Qandeel Baloch

Invasion of Privacy & The Murder of Qandeel Baloch

On July 15 Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her brother, claiming that it was a matter of family ‘honour’. One of Pakistan’s most famous and outspoken social media stars, Ms. Baloch used social media platforms to express her life, where she would share her thoughts, opinions and visual media. Her posts would at times poked fun at male Pakistani public figures and celebrities, which were often an exposé of the “hypocrisies of a patriarchal society dominated by a narrow-minded, self-righteous moral police”, according to the the blog No Country For Bold Women. This self-righteousness, a part of public media and social media discourse in Pakistan, regards the right to privacy, to anonymity, as mere obstacles to getting the “truth” out, regardless of the very real consequences that it can have. By violating her right to privacy and broadcasting detailed personal information, without any understanding of what that could entail, a woman was killed - and there still no conversation about privacy in Pakistan.

The self-righteousness that killed Qandeel still persists in the wake of her death, however, and thus compels us to question the facilitating factors at play - not only does the murder continue to be remarked upon with heavy victim-blaming sentiments, there are opinions that have voiced support for her murderer, and against her “lifestyle”. These remain, for the most part, unchallenged in the media. These include statements by senior commentators such as Haroon Rashid at Dunya News and Shahid Masood at ARY, among others, both of whose statements appear to blame her for her own murder; politicians such as Fauzia Kasuri of PTI, who had condemned her death but made misogynistic statements about her lifestyle, and that she required ‘psychological counselling’. Fauzia Kasuri and a few others have since deleted their statements on social media platforms, but there exist receipts on blogs such as No Country For Bold Women.

The constant refrain in the wake of Qandeel Baloch’s death has been that while it was her brother killed her, the media and Pakistani society have her blood on their hands - this is not an unfounded opinion. The provocative and often adversarial nature of the media in Pakistan has often blurred the line between what is in the public interest, and what conforms to journalistic ethics, for the sake of greater viewer or readership figures. The public and the media can be fickle in regards to celebrity, regardless of geography, often looking to break down figures that they may have celebrated or reported on in the past, by uncovering and broadcasting personal information that can put them at risk. This isdangerous enough in the wrong circumstances.The socially conservative and patriarchal nature of Pakistani society ensures that anyone that publicly declares themselves to be feminist and progressive, and who point out the hypocrisies of said society, will find themselves fearing for their lives, without protection from the state, even when they have requested said protection. The lack of proper measures for the right to - and the protection of - personal privacy, as well as a basic society-wide lack of understanding of the concept of privacy, played just as much a part in Qandeel Baloch’s death as the flawed and fragile hyper-masculine concept of ‘honour’.

“Qandeel’s Cinderella Story: She is not a Baloch her real name is Fouzia Azeem she is dishonouring Baloch people”. This tweet, which since has been deleted, was by Hamir Mir, an influential veteran journalist with Geo News in Pakistan. This lapse in journalism ethics particularly galling as being a veteran journalist, Mr. Mir has found himself in danger on a number of occasions for his reportage and commentary, and should have understood the necessity of anonymity and safeguarding the privacy of an individual. By revealing her real name, it highlighted a disturbing lapse of journalistic ethics, and opened her up to greater risk of attack.

In the days leading up to her death, a man claiming to be an ex-husband approached the media, revealing details about their marriage and child. Ms. Baloch confirmed the marriage, and went on to explain that it was an abusive situation that she had to leave. Furthermore a politician in Dera Gazi Khan sent her a legal order, “demanding that she apologise for ‘bringing shame’ to the Baloch race, stop using Baloch as her surname and pay him Rs. 50 million [...] otherwise, strict action will be taken against you." This led to death threats that prompted her to seek protection from the government, to no end, caused her to make the decision to leave Pakistan after Eid-ul-Fitr, with her parents.

This cannot and should not be placed solely on the shoulders of one journalist, however, but a wider media culture: on June 23, Daily Pakistan ran a profile on its website (still available at the time of writing), that carried had a scanned image of her Pakistani passport, with her details readily available and easily exploited. Further to this, an Urdu-language piece by Siasat TV extensively exploited Qandeel’s private life for their viewers - as with the Dunya article, this too is still readily available online today.

These examples of violations of Qandeel Baloch’s privacy and anonymity have led to the creation of No Country For Bold Women: a blog that has recorded these and other examples of invasion of privacy, of victim blaming, before and after her murder, so that evidence is kept for posterity, even after the originals have been erased. When one understands the the social context in Pakistan, the broadcasting of her personal information by the media - already a violation of journalistic ethics and objectivity, takes on a more horrific tone, as that violation of privacy can and did lead directly to her death at the hands of her brother, toxic masculinity, and the predatory media.

The damage has been done. The question becomes, however: what can and must be done in the wake of Qandeel Baloch’s murder?

The media often regards itself as a valuable part of a nation’s fabric, productively contributing to the social ecosystem. A free press is rightly a vital part of democratic discourse, but a feral press that decides to dictate or echo questionable morality does not aid that discourse. Freedom of the press does not necessarily mean freedom from consequences of the outcome. We are not calling for the muzzling of the media, but there must be accountability. There must be a sea-change in the way that journalistic ethics – or an apparent lack thereof – are adhered to in Pakistan.

PS: The examples of violations of privacy, victim-blaming, and the interviews referred to in the post can be found at the No Country For Bold Women blog.

July 16, 2016 - Comments Off on Qandeel Baloch Murdered – Nation’s ‘ghairat’ strikes again

Qandeel Baloch Murdered – Nation’s ‘ghairat’ strikes again

Its our Saturday – after an exhausting week of work, we deserve a break. A break from the world, a break from the bullshit that surrounds the world we find ourselves in. And to be completely honest it was going all serenely and as planned – the doing nothing that is – till we opened Facebook to find out that Qandeel Baloch has been killed.

And now we’re enraged.

We can’t write enough about how sad, shocked and enraged we are. Our bodies shiver from a mix of these emotions and we can’t physically vocalize them. Why? Because the eternal patriarchy that upholds the Pakistani society is rejoicing in Qandeel’s murder.

And it has so many names and forms: the celebration is happening on cell phones held, through tweets and Facebook posts, in the kitchen where rotis are being made, in darkened rooms littered with tissues and dirty rags, in weekend gatherings of testosterone – its everywhere.

And we as an organization are repulsed. Qandeel Baloch, a girl in her twenties, a survivor of an abusive marriage, a mother of a child – and a woman who was taking charge of sexuality has been murdered. It doesn’t matter who killed her, because let’s be honest – we as a nation killed her.

Yes! Me and you, us – we killed her and many others who die every single day in Pakistan. The approximately one thousand girls who die every year in the name of honor. And now while every news media outlet tries to capitalize on her death, while members of this society raise her son to hate her mother’s memory – we as citizens won’t be held accountable. We killed her.

Never forget. All of us who are happy in her death, who called her names in public but jerked off to her our rooms – we killed her. We killed her slowly but surely. And we aren’t sorry, we won’t be sorry, we will celebrate. This me and you – we have so many forms. We are mullahs who sleazed up to girls and boys whilst stroking our beards. We are the boys and men who police women 24/7, we are the girls and women who call Qandeel a bitch, a slut, a whore. We are the same bunch who say things like “if that girl was killed in the name of honour, she probably deserved it”.

Qandeel Baloch – was, is and now never will be the ‘Pakistani Kim Kardashian’. She did not come from the bourgeois elite, she was not educated in the best schools, she did not have the best paid PR team in the world marketing her, and she most definitely did not have the one of the best security detail surrounding her.

Qandeel was a woman who chose to share her life on social media despite of us, she chose to be in-charge of sexuality and she refused to be ashamed for her being. She was defiant and courageous, she claimed online spaces and offline spaces – she made sure that her presence was felt and that she was heard. And we Pakistani loved her for it! This was why we followed her, debated her, invited her on talk shows, took selfies with her. We loved to hate her and now we’ve done the best we could. We couldn’t all collectively **** her, so we helped kill her.

It’s all good though, our conscience won’t be too burdened by this killing. We’ll resort to the Quran, the Mullahs, our Ghairat to justify her killing and many others to come. We are sure about this, because this is exactly what we’ve done to justify all the other honor killings that take place in this country every year. And we as nation hope to one day reach a place where we will have killed every defiant woman and minority before they have even managed taken their first breathe.

This post was authored by Ushbah Al-Ain

July 02, 2016 - Comments Off on Day one of the Senate’s deliberation on PECB

Day one of the Senate’s deliberation on PECB

A two day meeting took place on Wednesday and Thursday i.e. June 29-30 respectively where the Senate Sub-Committee overlooking the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2016 deliberated with civil society actors, social media activists and internet service providers, on the many issues within the draft.

This post is the first of a two part series on the proceedings of the meeting.

On Wednesday, the parliamentary panel looked into amending the different clauses that will hurt the cause of human rights in Pakistan. Freedom of expression, social media and the different punishments that are to be meted out were put on the table.

Osman Saifullah Khan chaired the meeting which was also attended by Digital Rights Foundation Executive Director Nighat Dad.

The problem of there being no balance was brought up during the meeting. A multitude of sections were discussed during the meeting and the stakeholders present gave their input as to what should be changed and what should be omitted.

Senator Farhatullah Babar who was also present on the occasion said that the bill required more clarity. He questioned the impact that the bill would have on the flow of information and freedom of expression. He also highlighted that data protection and safeguards to personal data are an issue that needs to be remedied.

The committee placed under consideration Section 19 which talks about offences against the dignity of the natural person.

NayaTel CEO Wahaj-u-Siraj was of the view that other laws already deal with this issue and this clause should be omitted from the bill. He also said that the clause could be used to abuse power and curb freedom on social media. The committee said that the proposed punishment for the section i.e. fine and imprisonment, also needed to be revisited.

Senator Mohsin Khan Leghari said that citizens also needed protection and the bill was failing to provide. It. Senator Shibli Faraz highlighted the ignorance that is prevalent in Pakistan and said that the laws need to be developed in a manner so that they could benefit the average Pakistani.

While the committee said that the clause should be kept because it would play an important role, they also acknowledged that it needed major amendments before it could be allowed to go through.

The committee also looked into Section 22 which has to do with spamming. It was observed that laws against spamming exist in many countries, however, it should not be criminalized.

Here Nighat Dad pointed out that the bill had no protection for whistle blowers or those who leaked information with public interest in their mind. The FIA official present was adamant that anyone giving out information was committing a crime, irrespective of their intent. Officials responded to a question by Babar by saying that the spamming had to do with commercial and marketing spamming and not unsolicited communication.

They advised that the imprisonment should be removed, however, the fine penalty should be retained. During the next meeting, a comparison of EU and Singaporean law will also be brought to the table to see what improvements can be made to the PECB.

For Section 21, which deals with cyber stalking, the committee recommended that the content of the bill be tightened for better clarity.