Archives for June 2018

June 20, 2018 - Comments Off on Man convicted under cybercrime law for child pornography

Man convicted under cybercrime law for child pornography

Following in the stead of his predecessor, Judicial Magistrate Aamir Raza Baitu has issued a judgement under section 22 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 [PDF]. This development comes on the heels of another important judgement on online harassment and blackmailing which was reported here and which spoke to the potentially positive impact that the otherwise draconian Act can have if employed within reason.

The defendant in this case was accused by the Cyber Crime Circle of the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), of possessing, transmitting and producing pornographic pictures and sexually explicit videos by casting children between the ages 10 and 12 in them and then transmitting those pictures and videos to his agent, A , in Norway. The complainants in this case were not the affected children, but the FIA itself, as child pornography is one of the few offences where the FIA can take cognizance. The report further asserts that the accused committed monetary fraud and received payments through Western Union and MoneyGram for the same.

The timeline of events states that an enquiry dated 14th November, 2016 was initiated upon the receipt of information from a Nordic Police Liaison Officer of the Royal Norwegian Embassy through the Director General FIA which revealed that a Pakistani national was involved in the sexual assault of children who were being physically abused by him and videos and pictures of the same were being sent to an individual, named Jan Lindstrom, in Norway who was also involved in illegal child migration and exploitation. The report also mentioned that the convict along with an accomplice is part of a larger pedophile network, operating online from Pakistan.

The charge against the accused was framed on the 23rd of September, 2017 to which he pleaded not guilty and claimed his right to trial. The prosecution’s evidence was summoned, which had amassed as many as 11 witnesses including a Senior Investigator involved in the raid conducted at the accused’s house and subsequent recovery of digital media. Other witnesses included the forensic expert who worked the case, a Judicial Magistrate and an FC/FIA at the Cyber Crime Circle, Lahore. Channeled the witnesses’ testimonies and financial transactions along with ocular evidence to prove guilt.

The judgement was issued by Judicial Magistrate Baitu on the 26th of April, 2018 where he opined that the court had reached the conclusion that the prosecution had established its case beyond doubt and that the penal provisions of law i.e under s.22 PECA (which is reproduced below) are fully attracted against the accused. In so far as the application  of remaining offences are concerned, the prosecution has failed to establish these offences against the accused.

  1. 22. Child pornography ------- (1) Whoever intentionally produces, offers or makes available, distributes or transmits through an information system or procures for himself or for another person or without lawful justification possesses material in any information system, that visually depicts-----
  • a minor engaged in explicit sexual conduct
  • a person appearing to be a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; or
  • realistic images representing a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct; or
  • discloses the identity of the minor


The quantum of punishment administered under the above mentioned section sentences the convict to imprisonment for 7 years and a fine of Rs. 12,00,000/-.

While the fact that convictions are being issued against criminals after putting their case through the judicial process is commendable, certain points must be noted:

In this case in particular, the accused is said to belong to a pornographic ring however no more elaboration on that is provided and neither does the Magistrate appear to make any note of possibly following up on this piece of information. Also, as per a newsclip available on published on the 13th of April, 2017 i.e more than a year before the case was adjudicated upon, the then accused appears to admit to the charges filed against him while answering a question on how much compensation he received per video. This is surprising to see as there is also no allusion made to it in the judgement, no elaboration as to what is being done to tackle it or whether it has other members who are Pakistani nationals and so forth.

Coming to the issue of child endangerment and protection itself, the ambit of our judicial system needs to be increased from just focusing on miscreants and felons on an individual level when  entities like this pornography-producing mafia are on the rise to avoid another incident like the Zainab case. This case received a lot of media attention and thus put pressure on the government and authorities to expedite the justice process however numerous incidents of a similar nature have come to the surface since then that highlight the flaws of our law and order situation, that have received negligible attention and quite possibly, the same amount of expediency as well.

One of the aims of sentencing is for it to serve as a deterrent for the masses, in the spirit of this, a possible option could be to revise the severity of the punishment attached to crimes committed against the dignity and safety of children, in particular.

Another positive step in the direction is the approval of a Cyber Unit by the Interior Ministry to curb child pornography. Speaking to Pakistan Today an official laid out the idea behind the Unit:

‘‘The basic objective of the unit is to curb the menace of paedophilia and the unit will lead a dedicated team of the FIA personnel that will be equipped with the latest software,”

However what is noteworthy is that this announcement came out on the 2nd of February, 2018 and till the time of publication, no further information on the same has surfaced. The need for efficacy and efficiency in this matter cannot be overstated enough and affirmative steps should be taken without any further ado if the aim of these mechanisms and ideas is to protect the children of Pakistan.

Written by Zainab Durrani

June 14, 2018 - Comments Off on May 2018: Online safety of journalists and press freedom are imperative for countries to thrive

May 2018: Online safety of journalists and press freedom are imperative for countries to thrive

World Press Freedom Day 2018

Digital Rights Foundation celebrated World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2018 alongside journalists and media, and discussed the important issues pertaining to press freedom - both locally and internationally. The conversations revolved around the safety of journalists in the digital world and their right to free speech without being subjected to violence that force them to self-censor, or censorship enforced by internal and external actors. Here are the activities the team of DRF was involved in for #WPFD2018:

  • UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Celebrations in Accra, Ghana

Hija Kamran represented the Digital Rights Foundation at the World Press Freedom Day celebration organised by UNESCO in Accra, Ghana. She was part of some important conversations that discussed journalists’ right to online safety, and their right to freedom to expression.

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The panel discussions that Hija was part of included a high level panel hosted by UNESCO titled “Artistic Freedom in the Digital Age” (details on the discussion here) where her intervention addressed how women artists experience online spaces differently than men. Sharing some case studies from Pakistan, she shared that the abuse is mostly directed on a personal level for women, while men experience criticism on their work.

Another session that Hija spoke on was hosted by Access Now and was titled “Internet shutdowns and service restrictions - 'New tools' in restricting the free flow of information?” hosted by Access Now. This session addressed that internet shutdowns, in addition to being the violation of people’s right to freedom of expression, obstruct journalists’ work a great deal. Hija shared the findings of the interviews she conducted with journalists in the light of now two-year long internet shutdown in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), Pakistan where journalists have to travel 20 km to deliver news to their media houses.

  • "Advocacy for Digital Rights" - Training session in Accra, Ghana

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Hija Kamran conducted a training session hosted by Media Foundation for West Africa with the partner organisations from around West Africa, in Accra, Ghana. The training titled "Advocacy for Digital Rights" aimed to equip advocates of free expression for journalists in the region to raise issues of digital rights in a manner that is inclusive and effective. By using examples and case studies from South Asia, Hija directed the conversation on rights of the people in digital spaces focusing on building counter narrative especially around internet shutdowns - a frequent problem true to almost all of the world.

  • DRF Campaign on World Press Freedom Day 2018

According to a survey conducted by DRF, nearly 72% of female journalists in Pakistan and 61% of male journalists experience digital insecurity. Through our Network for Journalists for Digital Rights, we ensure empowerment with digital tools and security protocols in order to work more securely and efficiently.
Here’s what our network members shared on World Press Freedom Day:

Anushe Noor: “Being in the media is not considered very feminine - so when a woman decides to take up journalism as a career, she's faced with criticism”.

Umaima Ahmed: "The challenges faced by women in media include discrimination in position, pay and the beats assigned to them as well as emotional and sexual harassment. Today, I press for women’s freedom in media so that they can place an active role in making this world a better place".

Zeenat Shehzadi: "Our culture is restrictive of women entering the media, which leads to a lack of reporting on women-centric issues. We must be provided with safe and secure environment to be able to shed light on the issues that people face".

Sabin Agha: "Women journalists face an added threat and that is character assassination. It is very easy to assassin the character of a woman journalist as we live in a conservative society and they are considered easy target for intimidation".

Afia Salam: "The journalist community in Pakistan needs to take a stand against those who are suppressing their voices because without it people in this society won't be able to seek justice."

Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Rights of the Marginalised: DRF discusses at RightsCon 2018

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Digital Rights Foundation headed to Toronto this May to attend RightsCon 2018. At the leading conference on human rights in the digital age, DRF's intensive participation was focused on Freedom of Expression, Data Protection, and Gender. All of these areas are related to human and digital rights, they are all causes that DRF has been working hard for whether through research, on-the-ground assistance, or advocacy. Read more...

Digital rights defenders under threat: Strategies to resist fear, surveillance and (self-) censorship: re:publica 18

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Nighat Dad spoke at the panel titled "Digital rights defenders under threat: Strategies to resist fear, surveillance and (self-) censorship" at re:publica18 in Berlin, Germany. The discussion focused on digital attacks against human rights defenders that have expanded dramatically. Vaguely defined anti-terrorism legislation and spyware allow for targeted surveillance; trolls manipulate online content and conduct intimidating smear-campaigns. Against this backdrop of shrinking space and global backlash, holistic strategies for digital rights defenders are crucial. The session presented experiences from human rights activists in the Global South and discussed success stories and lessons learned from digital security and privacy initiatives. Watch the discussion here and details on the panel here.

Responding to Risks and Challenges: Human Rights Frameworks in the Digital Age - HRBDT

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Nighat Dad attended the HRBDT Conference - Human Rights in the Digital Age to be part of the panel titled "Responding to Risks and Challenges: Human Rights Frameworks in the Digital Age" happened in Geneva. Nighat highlighted the issues that human rights defenders and advocates for social change face in the global south, and emphasised particularly on issues in the context of Pakistan. She said, "In the absence of strong data protection legislation, human rights defenders are particularly at risk based on their digital footprint, the threat which very quickly transfers into offline consequences. Hence, it's imperative that countries like Pakistan move towards drafting a legislation that grants relief and protection to people and their digital data."

DRF condemns yet another breach of NADRA database and demands strong data protection legislation

There have been a staggering number of instances of mismanagement of personal data that can be traced back to NADRA, the most recent of which is a reported breach into Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) that has resulted in the loss of a critical amount of confidential data, access to which was granted by NADRA and which is being sold over the internet for as low as Rs.100 (equivalent to almost $1). This hit, which is as recent as May 2018 is yet another forced intrusion into our private lives at the hands of hackers, however the reason our personal data has been so easily plucked is the abysmal state of affairs is our data protection policies, or lack thereof. Full statement here.

Open Letter to Twitter: Please Do Better about Misinformation during General Elections 2018

Dear Twitter,

We heard that you want to do better in making Twitter an inclusive platform. We heard that you have updated your strategy to fight trolls to make it a safe space for everyone. And we also heard that you are committed to fight fake news, especially after what Facebook has gone through in the past couple of months. We, for one, were glad that you are at least trying. But are you?

Digital Rights Foundation writes an open letter to Twitter to address the spread of misinformation on its platform during the General Elections of 2018 in Pakistan. Read the letter here.

Statement: DRF expresses concerns over the ban on the messaging app Telegram in Pakistan

We at the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) are extremely concerned regarding the ban on the social media messaging application, Telegram, by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). We issued a statement to express our concerns about this ban which curtails the right to communicate in a secure and safe manner. Read the statement here.

TED Global publishes Nighat Dad's talk

Nighat Dad speaks at TEDGlobal 2017 - Builders, Truth Tellers, Catalysts - August 27-30, 2017, Arusha, Tanzania. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

Nighat is one of the remarkable Pakistanis who, along with her team of phenomenal people, is making Pakistan proud across the world. Nighat’s story is not one of its kind, in fact, it’s a story of every woman - young and old - who was brave enough to mark her existence in the online world; a world that is known to be cruel and yet is believed to be harmless for its virtual nature. Details and video here.

“Online Safe Spaces for Journalists” at University of Management and Technology, May 4th, 2018

DRF held a session at University of Management and Technology with students of Media and Communication. Around 65 students attended the awareness raising session where they were encouraged to keep themselves secure online. In the second half of the session they were given digital security training and were also provided with CDs which included security toolkits and a guidebook on digital security.

Workshop: Right to Play

DRF attended and participated in a day long workshop around women’s participation sports and journalism around sports. Social media was marked as a game-changer for coverage as women sports as great strides have been made without the strictures of traditional media. However female sports journalists talked extensively about online harassment and the toll it can take on their work. The workshop was attended by the top female journalists in Pakistan and some prominent sports personalities.

June 04, 2018 - Comments Off on Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Rights of the Marginalised: DRF discusses at RightsCon 2018

Freedom of Expression, Privacy and Rights of the Marginalised: DRF discusses at RightsCon 2018

Digital Rights Foundation headed to Toronto this May to attend RightsCon 2018. As the leading conference on human rights in the digital age, DRF was happy to represent Pakistan and explain its context, and present the work that DRF has been doing over the past couple of months.

DRF’s participation in RightsCon can be categorized into three areas: Freedom of Expression; Data Protection; and Gender. All of these areas are related to human and digital rights, they are all causes that DRF has been working hard for whether through research, on-the-ground assistance, or advocacy.

Participation at RightsCon was intensive, with Nighat Dad and Hyra Basit representing the team on a total of 14 sessions, two of which were proposed by DRF, over the course of three days. However, Day 0 was also quite busy - Hyra divided her time between a Protect Our Spaces meeting, called to discuss the sexual harassment that goes on within the tech and human rights circles and what can be done about it, and a meeting on the way Facebook plays a significant role in the politics and operations of a country; Nighat, meanwhile, attended the Executive Directors’ meeting.

DRF has always been vocal about the granted right  to freedom of expression without discrimination between race, gender, class, ethnicity, or religion. Freedom of expression not only includes the freedom to speak and express opinions and thoughts online, but to be able to access online resources without blockades so that a person can then express themselves. The latter especially was discussed during the session ‘Digital Rights for the Persecuted Refugees: Can there be a Global Support Framework?’ moderated by Faheem Hussain. Hyra talked about the struggle to access the internet among the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Pakistan, refugees from Afghanistan, and also some of the more positive ways that the internet is being and can be used. Nighat as a panelist in the session ‘Eye of the Beholder: Government Attempts to Define and Detect "Extremism" talked about how freedom of expression is curbed because of the constant monitoring and surveillance that is prevalent because the definition of who an extremist or terrorist isn’t clear.

Nighat expanded on the context of Pakistan during the session ‘Free Speech is not Blasphemy’ hosted by Bolo Bhi, talking about the thin line between hate speech and free speech, stressing on how someone’s free speech shouldn’t be used as an excuse to impinge on the rights of others. Continuing the conversation on Day 3, she pointed out the gap in protection offered by privacy policies by the same telecom companies in different countries, as well as the systemic harassment faced by women online which results in many women withdrawing from online spaces during the ‘The Widening Digital Divide’ session arranged by Bolo Bhi. Talking about the nearly two-year internet shutdown in FATA, she suggested strategic litigation using a mix of human stories, violation of human rights and economic cost argument to deal with internet and mobile shutdowns at the session ‘Combatting Shutdowns with COST: A Data Driven Policy Tool for Internet Freedom’. She also addressed the issue of Youth Surveillance as part of a panel hosted by IFEX, especially social surveillance, which affects young girls even more, and while DRF is initiating the discussion on privacy by going to schools and universities, laws that protect children are not adequate for the digital age.

DRF has always stressed on data protection and privacy laws, understanding the intersection between human rights and digitization. As part of our research and advocacy, we looked into the continuous NADRA breaches that have taken place over the years, and all the informed sharing of data by NADRA and government officials without taking the consent, privacy, and safety of Pakistani citizens into consideration. This was also shared during a session “Fingerprint on the pulse: Challenging the lack of privacy protections for biometric data.” hosted by Privacy International. ‘The Global State of Data Protection’ hosted by Access Now was also an opportunity to discuss the right to freedom of information and informational self-determination, and how the GDPR will affect Pakistan.

RightsCon was also an opportunity for DRF to continue its participation in the development of the feminist principles of the internet, as Nighat explained them for the audience and how they applied in Pakistan’s context. We also had the chance to talk about our experience running the Cyber Harassment Helpline and what we’ve learned from our experience in the ‘Take Back the Net: Innovations in Tackling Online Hate and Harassment’ session hosted by PEN America. And while online harassment covers a range of activities, an effort to start a discussion around how the victims of non-consensual pornography can be helped was made through a session hosted by Acoso Online, where the digital security tools and the mental health aspect were discussed.

The ‘Masculinity in Online Spaces’ session hosted by DRF proved to be a thought-provoking session with the panelists speaking out about their experience with men’s behavior online and how the way masculinity exhibits itself has lead to gendered trolling, devaluation of women’s work and severe mental trauma.  The ‘Gendering Surveillance’ panel was also proposed by DRF to discuss the ways in surveillance manifests itself in different contexts, and how it disproportionately affects women and gender minorities.

The four intensive days at RightsCon proved to be packed with insightful discussions, opening us up to new perspectives and giving us the opportunity to present our concerns, criticisms, cultural context. This exchange of ideas opens us up to work towards improving the work that we do in Pakistan.

Written by Hyra Basit

June 03, 2018 - Comments Off on Study reveals extent of Awami Workers political party website block in Pakistan

Study reveals extent of Awami Workers political party website block in Pakistan

PAKISTAN – The NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory project in coordination with the Digital Rights Foundation has collected evidence of blocking of a political party website, operated by the Awami Workers Party, in the run up to general elections scheduled on the 25th of July 2018.

The extensive study conducted on Sunday 3 June 2018, spanning 73 autonomous networks and comprising some 10,000 measurements using network digital forensic techniques reveals that the political party’s website has been blocked by most, but not all, Pakistani internet service providers throughout the country.

Providers implementing the block, which has been criticised on human rights grounds as a violation of the right to free expression and right to political speech during the election period, include national provider PCTL, Wateen and Nayatel.

A further breakdown of the providers identifies which Pakistani ISPs are now restricting their customers from accessing the political party’s website:


The data provides comprehensive evidence of the extent of the blocking measures that is consistent with internet filters seen in Pakistan and other countries that use internet controls to restrict access to information.


The measurements were made using the NetBlocks web probes measurement technique, which uses the vantage points of volunteers based inside and outside the country to build a comprehensive view of reachability of online properties. This report will be amended as the situation develops and more details are confirmed.

Commenting on the results of the study, Nighat Dad, founder of the Digital Rights Foundation explained:

“This kind of blocking is a violation of Article 19 of the Pakistan’s constitution and ICCPR which is signed and ratified by Pakistan. We are concerned that blocking of online political content will impact the essence of free and fair elections in Pakistan. We will continue to monitor and catalogue these violations together with our partners at NetBlocks.”

Soon is a global network observatory that monitors Internet shutdowns, network disruptions, and cybersecurity incidents and their relation to elections, geopolitics and international security in real-time.

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a research and advocacy NGO based in Pakistan that focuses on how ICT can support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance. It works towards a world where all people, and especially women, are able to safely exercise their right of expression.

Contact the Digital Rights Foundation: @DigitalRightsPK

Contact the NetBlocks internet measurement project: @netblocks

June 01, 2018 - Comments Off on Open Letter to Twitter: Please Do Better about Misinformation during General Elections 2018

Open Letter to Twitter: Please Do Better about Misinformation during General Elections 2018

Dear Twitter,

We heard that you want to do better in making Twitter an inclusive platform. We heard that you have updated your strategy to fight trolls to make it a safe space for everyone. And we also heard that you are committed to fight fake news, especially after what Facebook has gone through in the past couple of months. We, for one, were glad that you are at least trying. But are you?

Facebook is taking the heat for allowing user data to be misused during the democratic processes worldwide, but do you think you have done better? We are talking particularly in the context of fake news through fake accounts that Twitter very conveniently allows to exist on its platform. The biased community standards suspend the accounts of women speaking up against trolls in the language they understand, but trolls operating under the shadow of fake accounts keep making use of the platform without facing the consequences of the said standards.

Pakistan is going to have its General Elections in almost 2 months from now, and what we are seeing today is an orchestrated political campaign through fake accounts on Twitter; case in point the convicted rapist of a former Pakistani film actress being appointed in one of the political parties running for the office and later being expelled after an outrage on social media and subsequently on mainstream media. What went wrong here is that during this appointment and expulsion of the rapist, a fake account was setup in the name of the artist who was forced to leave the country after her brutal rape, commending the actions of the political party to expel the rapist. Here’s the screenshot of the tweet, and the link to it in case you actually decide to take action against fake news:

You may want to consider the number of reactions on this tweet in a couple of hours, and the impact this misinformation has been making among Pakistanis. The tweet was subsequently picked up by local mainstream media and stories were published and aired within hours.

While this may not seem a big issue by the face of it, but this incident is particularly giving leverage to the political party in consideration, and your platform is the core tool for it. It’s taking away people’s agency to make decisions on their own - overshadowed by misinformation.

Let us reiterate - a political party appointed a convicted rapist and is being celebrated for it because the army of fake accounts on Twitter is pitching for a narrative that will promote this party as being better than others. Would you not agree that it’s against the very principles of democracy that we all advocate for?

Shabnam, the legendary artist who was forced to leave the country after her rape by this influential politician, has been snatched of her agency to voice her concerns during this fiasco. This particular fake account (@JharnaBasak) brought her experience down to a political agenda that only suits the people who benefit from it in current political environment closer to the elections. And not only the political goons are celebrating this incident but also human rights defenders; “Good effort by PTI [Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf]”, said one women’s rights activist. Twitter has become a tool that has taken away people’s ability to think rationally. While the convicted rapist shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place, your platform has paved way for people to shrug off the problems that this part of the world has been struggling with for generations - violence against women - and honour the forced measures of rectification under the pretence of awareness.

In such instances, efforts to curb misinformation, abuse and trolling by platforms like Twitter become particularly relevant for them being the primary source of news for people. At this point, we are reminded of a remarkable research by Science Magazine featured in The Atlantic in March 2018 that says, “By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter [...].” It’s evident that the problem has been around since the advent of Twitter, but we ask you, what have you done to improve this, if anything at all?

We want you to actually take action and set the case straight that false information is not welcomed on your platform that is trusted and used by millions across the world.

We recommend,

  1. Setting up a clear editorial policy to counter misinformation, by consulting with all stakeholders
  2. Taking strict actions against fake accounts and false news when it is flagged, and take measures where identical IPs are used to create multiple, possibly fake, accounts
  3. Being transparent about who sponsors the content on Twitter and who benefits from it
  4. Promoting credible voices, especially of women and representatives of marginalised groups, among communities

Pakistan is a fairly new democracy that struggles to keep the reigns of its democratically elected government in place, and has successfully completed the tenure of the second government of the said kind. It wasn't easy, and let us tell you - it was ugly, to say the least. But we did it, and we hope that the next government will do better, because democracy is what we strive for, and democracy is what we want in all the processes that we opt for. And because Twitter holds a strong presence in the country, it remains one of the platforms that influence people's decisions.

We hope that you will do better and give people a chance to make their democratic decisions independent of any influence through misinformation propagated through your platform.

Concerned members of a democratic country that is Pakistan.

About Digital Rights Foundation: Digital Rights Foundation is a researched based advocacy NGO registered in Pakistan, focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance. For more information, visit or write to us at

Written by Hija Kamran