Archives for January 2020

January 28, 2020 - Comments Off on Citizens Groups, Journalists’ Body & Others Reject PEMRA’s Draconian Proposed Draft Regulations On Web TV & Other Allied Attempts

Citizens Groups, Journalists’ Body & Others Reject PEMRA’s Draconian Proposed Draft Regulations On Web TV & Other Allied Attempts


On government attempts to curtail freedom of expression, right to information and digital rights; and appropriation of internet and cyberspace

Citizens groups reject PEMRA’s draconian proposed draft regulations on Web TV and other allied attempts to undermine digital rights and freedom of expression 

Islamabad – January 28, 2020

We the public, citizens of Pakistan, the media sector and its practitioners, digital rights advocates, human rights groups, legal fraternity and the broader civil society in general, are alarmed and angry at recent government attempts clearly aimed at curtailing our fundamental rights to free speech and access to information through blatant attempts to restrict our digital rights and hijacking of internet and cyberspace to curb open discourse and online socio-economic freedoms and pluralisms, as well as distorting and limiting the media market.

In particular, the following initiatives, proposals and measures at the start of 2020, and preceding it, taken by the government and the state, among other things, as made public by government authorities, reported by the media and/or unofficial information through reliable sources, are alarming:

  • A draft proposal uploaded on its website by the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) in January titled “Consultation on Regulating the Web TV & Over The Top TV (OTT) Content Services”
  • Parallel/alternative draft, regulations not made public but reportedly possessed and distributed to selected authorities by PEMRA and presented before the federal cabinet that reportedly include even more stringent provisions than the ‘public’ version of the draft.
  • A draft proposal by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) not formally circulated among the public but shared with parliamentary committees, aiming to establish so-called guidelines to “prevent harm to persons” on the internet but apparently aimed at restricting online freedom of expression and right to information.

A public consultation co-organized by BoloBhi, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Freedom Network (FN), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA) and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ)  – all independent civil society Pakistani organizations championing the rights of journalists, civil liberties and digital rights of all citizens – and attended by dozens of journalists and media practitioners, digital rights activists, IT industry representatives, internet service providers, human rights groups, women’s rights advocates, lawyers, social media practitioners, and media rights groups, considered in detail all the recent announced and unannounced government measures and official and unofficial drafts.

All the above proposed measures, policies, drafts and proposals were rejected outright with consensus by the participants of the open consultation. The stakeholders and participants agreed that there is no need for the proposed drafts and proposals at all and, therefore, no need to respond to the individual clauses of both the declared and undeclared drafts from PEMRA, PTA and other sources, as they are redundant. Proposing amendments to these drafts would amount to  lending legitimacy to their unfair and non-representative, and often malicious, intent and content.

The stakeholders rejected the drafts in their totality as attempts at expanding the PEMRA footprint slyly by usurping and self-according to itself the mandate to regulate the internet with the thinly disguised aim to regulate online content. PEMRA’s legal mandate is to regulate the broadcast industry, not even regulate broadcast content, let alone online content,  while any attempts to self-expand its mandate to regulate the internet are dangerous by implication, and downright illegal, which will end up undermining Pakistan’s digital future.


The participants agreed and declared the following:

  1. The environment for free speech for the citizens and the media is already heavily curtailed in Pakistan as part of an ongoing process of suppressing civil liberties and engendering a climate of censorship. These newly proposed regulations and measures, through publicized and unpublicized versions of drafts, can and will be used to censor online content and curb freedom of expression and right to information of media practitioners and citizens.
  2. These anti-freedom of expression, anti-right to information measures and drafts cannot and should not be instituted through ‘regulations’ by bypassing legislative processes or without direct public-parliament consultations, or in violation of Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution. Furthermore, the  proposed regulations are beyond the statutory mandate of PEMRA  and therefore must not be adopted through regulations or notifications alone. This is obvious in the much higher license fee for news and current affairs Web TV channels as compared to other entertainment Web TV platforms in the proposed regulation. The drafts will also disproportionately impact independent content creators due to the proposed onerous licensing requirements.
  3. The official and unofficial drafts, including those from PEMRA, are thinly disguised as draconian attempts to discourage new media journalism, including YouTube / website channels being run by Pakistani journalists who have been forced out from mainstream media over the past two years by the authorities to curtail their professional and/or entrepreneurial work, or dozens of entrepreneurial and non-legacy current affairs news and current affairs websites that are filling the gaps in information from legacy media and providing useful local community information. No one should be charged a fee for operating information services online through independent websites
  4. The proposals and the official and unofficial drafts seem to be attempts to indirectly materialize the otherwise rejected idea of Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PMRA) – the widely rejected proposal floated by the PTI government in 2019 to serve as a single controlling authority for print, broadcast and online media. This will also amount to overstretching of PEMRA’s jurisdiction beyond its statutory mandate and encroach on the mandate of other regulators.This will also amount to overstretching of PEMRA’s jurisdiction beyond its statutory mandate and encroach on the mandate of other regulators
  5. Through these regulations, PEMRA seems to be proposing to assume/acquire Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA)-type powers for itself, which have already proved controversial (and which themselves require amendments for overreaching mandate in violation of constitutional articles) and a thinly disguised framework to hinder freedom of expression online, as the cases under it against several journalists and citizens prove, and other digital rights.


The participants warned the citizens, the netizens, media, information practitioners, the government, the opposition, legislatures, political parties, civil society, rights groups, media regulators of the following consequences if the proposed new measures, proposals and drafts are approved:

Regression of a digital economic future for Pakistan: Net neutrality and easier and cheaper access to the internet is central for a robust digital future of Pakistan. The newly proposed declared and undeclared measures will become a barrier for a broad range of players in not just the information, telecom and internet access business domains but for digital entrepreneurship and start-up ecosystems as well as contribute to a widening gap between the digital and non-digital natives.

Decreased freedom of expression, increased censorship and diminished digital rights:

Pakistan is already poorly ranked on all key annual global indexes of freedom of expression and digital rights, including those of Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), Freedom House (FH) and International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The newly proposed declared and undeclared measures will curb online free speech and digital rights further and bring levels of online censorship on a par with offline censorship and damage democracy.

Circumscribed access to information and weakened pluralisms:

Social media access and usage by the citizens of Pakistan is growing as a means of access to information that is now routinely curtailed on mainstream offline media. The newly proposed declared and undeclared measures will not only diminish access to information but also curtail online social discourse and pluralism of information sources that are necessary for Pakistan’s pluralist polity and strengthening human rights and democracy.

The death of creativity, initiative and productivity:

Free expression, the arts and visual and performance disciplines are key to a creative twenty-first century digital society. The newly proposed declared and undeclared measures will stifle the arts, strangulate the media, disrupt local community information services, undermine online education and health campaigns, sabotage state-to-citizen digital engagement and outreach, and simply push Pakistan back to the twentieth century.


The participants and stakeholders made a vociferous appeal to the Parliament, the political parties, the federal and provincial governments and the Prime Minister to prevent any and all attempts from all quarters to sneak into policymaking all such measures as the proposed official and unofficial drafts mentioned above that will hinder Pakistan’s march into a digital future in a globally connected world. They urged an immediate official rejection of the measures and drafts in line with the interests of the citizens of Pakistan.

  1.  AGHS Legal Aid Cell
  2.  ASR Resource Centre 
  3.  Aurat March Karachi 
  4.  Bolo Bhi
  5.  DRF - Digital Rights Foundation
  6.  FN - Freedom Network
  7.  HRCP - Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
  8.  Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan
  9.  IRADA - Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development
  10.  Mangobaaz
  11.  Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights (140 members)
  12.  People’s Commission for Minorities Rights
  13.  PFUJ - Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists
  14.  SAP Pakistan 
  15.  Women Action Forum - Hyderabad 
  16.  Women Action Forum - Islamabad 
  17.  Women Action Forum - Karachi 
  18.  Women Action Forum - Lahore 
  19.  Women Democratic Front
  1. Adnan Rehmat - journalist, analyst and media rights activist
  2. Ailia Zehra - NayaDaur
  3. Afia Salam
  4. Alveena Sajid -  Express News
  5. Ammar Masood - Columnist - AAP Communication
  6. Aneela Ashraf
  7. Anis Haroon - Feminist
  8. Annam Lodhi
  9. Asma Sherazi - Journalist
  10. Badar Alam - journalist, former editor Herald
  11. Gharidah Farooqi - Journalist AAP News
  12. Haroon Rashid - Independent Urdu
  13. Jalila Haider - activist, lawyer
  14. Laiba Zainab - NayaDaur
  15. Maleeha Mengal
  16. Manal Khan
  17. Moneeza Jahangir - Journalist
  18. Nadia Malik - Geo News
  19. Najia Ashar - CEO Global Neighbourhood for Media Innovation
  20. Nasir Zaidi
  21. Nasreen Shah - Member WAF
  22. Neelam Hussain - Member WAF
  23. Nighat Saeed Khan - Feminist
  24. Peter Jacob 
  25. Qurrat ul Ain Shirazi, Hum News
  26. Ramsha Jahangir - Journalist Dawn Newspaper
  27. Rubina Saigal - Member WAF
  28. Sabahat Khan - Journalist
  29. Saqib Jillani - Lawyer
  30. Sana Ejaz - Journalist
  31. Shabana Arif 
  32. Shehzada Zulfiqar - President PFUJ
  33. Sumaira Ashraf Rajput - Public News
  34. Tahira Abdullah - human rights activist
  35. Umaima Ahmed - TNS
  36. Wahaj Siraj - CEO Nayatel 
  37. Zeenat Khan
  38. Zoya Anwer - Freelance Multimedia Journalist

January 22, 2020 - Comments Off on December 2019: Digital Rights Foundation conducts its Sixth National Conference on Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight

December 2019: Digital Rights Foundation conducts its Sixth National Conference on Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) conducted its Sixth National Conference on “Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight” on December 7, 2019 in Islamabad to discuss issues relating to artificial intelligence, and algorithmic decision-making in the context of privacy rights. The event was supported by one of our key partners, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The keynote address was delivered by former senator Faratullah Babar. The conference featured the Glass Room Exhibit which featured interactive installations such as “The Zuckerburg House”, “The Empire”, “A Data-Day”, “Fake or Real” and “The Real Life of Your Selfie” which were supported by Tactical Tech as part of its global exhibit.

A panel discussion on the topic “The Future of Tech: AI and Algorithms in the Context of the Criminal Justice System & Social Justice” was conducted to tackle the issue of emerging technology such as artificial intelligence and algorithmic decision-making from a human rights perspective. The panelists included Dr. Maryam Mustafa, Dr. Muhammad Nadeem, Rahma M Mian and Aleena Alavi.

The event also included a vibrant debate on the proposition “This House Believes That (THBT): Sentencing by judges should be delegated to algorithms”. Oves Anwar (RSIL), Mujtaba Hussain (KPITP) and Usama Khilji (BoloBhi) spoke in favour of the motion. A team of Malaika Raza, Aniqa Arshad and Zoya Rehman argued against the proposition.

Press Conference with Joint Action Committee on Dec 16

DRF took part in a press conference as part of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) to highlight the issue of shrinking spaces in Pakistan, especially the lack of freedoms for civil society. Speakers at the conference included representatives from HRCP, WISE, AGHS Legal Cell, South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), SAFMA and several others. DRF particularly highlighted the shrinking online spaces and how it was impacting other fundamental freedoms enjoyed by citizens.

National Feminist Legal Theory and Practice Training (NFLTP)-Pakistan

DRF took part in the NFLTP organised by HomeNet from December 17th till 19th. Jannat Ali Kalyar and Shmyla Khan attended the conference as representatives from DRF. The workshop focused on feminist approaches to the law, covering a wide range of issues relating to international human rights law, intersectionality, the feminist movement in Pakistan and critiques of laws aimed at addressing gender-based issues in Pakistan.

Nighat in Women of the World Festival

DRF’s Executive Director Nighat Dad took part in the ‘Women of the World’ Festival in Karachi, and took part in a panel discussion titled, ‘Feminism in the Digital Age’. This panel aimed to bring to light issues of access to the internet as well as how the the feminist movement has played out in digital spaces.

Privacy series with TNS:

As part of our work on data privacy and data protection, we partnered with ‘The News on Sunday’ to publish opinion pieces about the topic. The aim with these articles was to help create awareness, and further public discourse on the matter.

DRF conducts session at Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro

DRF conducted a session on 3rd December with students and admin of Mehran University of Engineering and Technology at the USPCAS-W Auditorium. The session titled Hamara Internet: Online Spaces; Challenges and Opportunities had 174 students from the institute. The session highlighted the current digital rights discourse in the country along with a need for a data protection bill in the country. Students shared their experiences of online harassment and harassment in general and also highlighted the pivotal role of each citizen to make online spaces safe for all.

DRF conducted session at Iqra University, North Campus, Karachi

DRF conducted a session on 4th December with students and admin of Iqra University, North Campus, Karachi. The session was with 92 students and teachers on campus. The session highlighted the impact of online violence in offline spaces and how certain communities are vulnerable online. There was a much needed debate around the current cybercrime legislation in the country and also the need for a data protection bill.

Landmark Judgement regarding Right To Information and Privacy passed by Pakistan Information Commission.

The Chief Information Commissioner passed a landmark order in December 2019 which can be seen as a major win in the area of privacy and data rights. The judgement is as follows:

“All Public Information Officers designated under Section 9 of the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 are directed not to demand the provision of certified copy of CNIC when an applicant mentions that s/he is citizen of Pakistan. A Public Information Officer can only demand production of CNIC when it is warranted by objective grounds, i.e. a request for information seems to have been filed from abroad.”

In the proceedings of the appeal, DRF’s Executive Director Nighat Dad acted as Amicus Curie, and added her  input. She talked about the current legal landscape regarding privacy, which in Pakistan is covered under Article 14 of the Constitution. Nighat Dad also talked about how there are no data protection laws in the country, a matter that has led to private citizen’s data being compromised, as seen in the case of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s online citizen portal and its corresponding app. Additionally, she added the following, ‘Until and unless a robust data protection law is enacted, collection of private information, unless explicitly required, should not be collected. Furthermore, making CNIC as a requirement for access to a fundamental right, such as the right to information, is too onerous a restriction.’