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Archives for August 2023

August 16, 2023 - Comments Off on Digital 50.50: Women Technology & the Gig Economy

Digital 50.50: Women Technology & the Gig Economy

DRF released its new edition of Digital 50.50 on 'Women, Technology & Gig Economy' in July. The edition focused on the role of women in the digital gig economy in Pakistan and its opportunities and challenges. You can read our new features in the link below:


DRF Strongly condemns the recent incident of sexual exploitation and harassment at the Islamia University Bahawalpur.

DRF Strongly condemns the recent incident of sexual exploitation and harassment at the Islamia University Bahawalpur. This distressing turn of events marks the third high-profile case in many years. In 2019, a similar incident like this took place at the University of Balochistan, Quetta, and later at the King Edward Medical University Lahore.

Incidents like these are indicative of an alarming pattern of misconduct emerging, where at least two of the known cases implicate the chief of security as the primary accused.

Click here to read our statement:

Online Campaigns:

The Digital Rights Foundation spoke on the judgment of the Lahore High Court (LHC) dated 13th of July, 2023.The judgment is a seminal development in terms of creating a precedent that highlights the importance of the right to privacy, with respect to seizure of devices, particularly mobile phones, during an investigation.

Here the LHC reads Articles 13 and 14 of the Constitution of Pakistan in conjunction to highlight privacy of individuals and declares spying or extraction of data without a Court order to be unconstitutional and illegal.

DRF is heartened by the take of the honourable justices of the provincial High Court, who have placed emphasis on the protection of the crucial right to privacy.

Policy Initiatives:

July was a busy month for DRF as we worked on policies and proposed laws put forward by the government. DRF is committed to providing feedback to all government stakeholders to improve laws and policies and ensure they are in compliance with international best practices and responsive to local context.

Feedback on ‘Draft National Artificial Intelligence Policy 2023’

DRF submitted it’s detailed feedback to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT) on the ‘Draft National Artificial Intelligence Policy 2023’. Emerging technologies such as AI are rapidly informing our everyday lives and it is essential that regulation takes into account human rights and Pakistan’s specific context. Our submission seeks to provide a digital rights perspective and signpost loopholes within the existing policy.

The feedback document can be accessed here.

Legal Analysis: Personal Data Protection Bill 2023

The Cabinet has approved a draft of the Personal Data Protection Bill on July 27, 2023 and the Bill is expected to be presented in Parliament soon. DRF has consistently been providing feedback on all versions of the Bill since 2018 and has produced an updated analysis of the latest publicly available version of the Bill (dated May 2023) raising concerns regarding data localisation requirements and independence of the proposed Commission, among other issues.

The updated analysis can be found here.

Blog Post: Digital Rights in Pakistan: A Review of 2023

DRF’s research interns this summer, Maham Sohail and Rameen Durrani, put together a timeline of digital rights-related events in the first six months of 2023 highlighting issues of internet shutdowns, new digital policies and prosecutions based on digital speech.

The blog can be accessed here.

Exploring Jurisprudence on Transgender Rights: A Comparative Study

In light of the recent Federal Shariat Court judgment on the ‘Transgender Persons

(Protection of Rights) Act, 2018’, DRF conducted a study understand the legality of transgender rights from a constitutional, Islamic jurispduence, privacy and gender-based violence perspective.

The study can be found here.
Submission to Meta Oversight Board on Gender-based Violence

DRF submitted its comments for the Meta Oversight Board (OSB) two cases regarding Gender-based Viiolence (2023-002-IG-UA and 2023-005-IG-UA ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN (SWEDISH)), the judgment for was issued by the Board in July 2023. DRF’s submission (available here) highlighted the importance of digital spaces in raising issues of Gender-based Violence and how removing content raising awareness regarding these issues is tantamount to gender discrimination.

Cyber Harassment Helpline Policy Brief 2022

DRF launched its cyber harassment policy brief of 2022. The policy brief aims to analyze the work of the helpline with cases of online harassment and violence against journalists and media practitioners.

Link to policy brief:

Link to Press Release:

Press Coverage:

DRF received 75 cases of Online Harassment of Journalists

DRF’s policy brief was covered by Ananke magazine highlighting the 75 cases of online harassment the helpline received in 2022.

Link to article:
75 Journalists reported Cyber Harassment in 2022

DRF’s policy brief was covered by Dawn in detail particularly about the 75 online cases the helpline recieved.

Link to article:


Nighat Dad at TrustCon

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke at TrustCon on a panel discussing  her role at the task force report on the future of web by Atlantic Council. On the panel at the event Nighat also spoke to importance of not just saying “civil society” as if a monolith. Being a civil society group in Pakistan is not the same as US. We don’t always engage w/ those most impacted, or prioritize what they flag. Folks not talking about this years’ Pakistan elections

You can see the newly launched report here:

Scaling trust on the web

Twitter Space: the role of women in the gig economy

Digital 50.50 contributors Wajiha Hyder, Sabin Muzaffar and Aneela Ashraf were part of a twitter space on the role of women in the gig economy highlighting their contributions in the second edition of Digital 50.50.

You can listen to the conversation here:

Training with Human Rights Defenders on Digital Safety and Legal Recourse

DRF conducted a series of workshops with human rights defenders on legal recourse and digital safety in the month of July. The team discussed relevant laws with respect to human rights defenders and activists along with online safety tips for them. The workshops took place on the 13th, 17th, 19th and 21st of July.

Workshop on Geolocating Images: Methods, Tools, and Creativity - ETI - 20 July 2023

DRF’s Aqsa Javed attended a workshop on “Geolocating Images: Methods, Tools, and Creativity” which was organized by ETI, on the 20th of July 2023. The workshop was initiated with a brief introduction to the concept of geolocating and image analysis and then led to an overview of how geolocation technology works. Following the initial overview, the workshop delved into a comprehensive discussion of tools, and methods employed for geolocating images by using different techniques, including map markings. Furthermore, the workshop touched upon real-life examples and different online platforms that are available for geolocating images effectively.

DRF Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline

The Cyber Harassment Helpline received 250 complaints in total July, with 112 complaints by women and 5 from transgender persons. If you’re encountering a problem online, you can reach out to our helpline at 0800-39393, email us at [email protected] or reach out to us on our social media accounts. We’re available for assistance from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Sunday.

DRF NCHR Complaint Cell for Journalists

DRF and NCHR are operating a Complaint Cell to support journalists that have been the target of human rights abuses. The contact information for the Journalist Complaint Cell is available on the NCHR website at

IWF Portal

DRF in collaboration with Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) and the Global Fund to End Violence Against Children launched a portal to combat children’s online safety in Pakistan. The new portal allows internet users in Pakistan to anonymously report child sexual abuse material in three different languages- English, Urdu, and Pashto.

Meta along with Revenge Porn Helpline (RPH) has launched a portal to support victims of Non-Consensual Intimate Image Abuse (NCII). NCII is a free portal for reporting cases of sensitive or sexual content existing online. Once you report a case, the necessary steps will be taken to block the images from the platform.


August 10, 2023 - Comments Off on Creative Freedom vs. Societal Sensitivities: The Balancing Act in Entertainment Censorship

Creative Freedom vs. Societal Sensitivities: The Balancing Act in Entertainment Censorship

Rameen Durrani

Rameen Durrani is a student majoring in Economics & Political Science and is working as a Research & Policy Intern at Digital Rights Foundation for the summer of 2023.

Censorship of entertainment frequently occupies a fragile middle ground between artistic freedom and societal sensitivities. This dynamic is especially noticeable in Pakistan, where cultural, religious, and societal norms influence the boundaries of creative expression. In the context of Pakistani entertainment censorship, this blog explores the constant difficulty of striking the correct balance between creative freedom and societal sensitivity.

While Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, it also “allows for reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the "glory of Islam" or the "integrity, security, or defense of Pakistan" or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to an offense.” This provision, amongst others, creates ambiguity as to the degree of creative freedom within a country that has, for decades, been engaged in a battle of achieving modernity while also retaining its traditional values. According to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, “the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (PEMRA) has been established under the PEMRA Ordinance 2002 to facilitate and regulate the private electronic media. It has the mandate to improve the standards of information, education and entertainment and to enlarge the choice available to the people of Pakistan, including news, current affairs, religious knowledge, art and culture as well as science and technology.[1]

Owing to its largely contradictory laws, the influence of religious groups and the absence of media literacy, censorship decisions in Pakistan have often stifled artistic expression and discouraged daring storytelling. In addition to frequent film censorship, platform bans have also become quite common. Movie database IMDB was blocked on the pretext of it containing a review and link to a documentary on Balochistan. In 2021, PEMRA also directed local television channels to "stop airing caress and hug scenes" in dramas, as it was receiving several complaints against such content.[2] It is interesting to note, however, that no such complaints are addressed regarding domestic violence as well as other forms of abuse that often serve as the main theme of various TV shows.

[1] Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. (MOIB), PAKISTAN. (n.d.)

[2] In Pakistan, TV channels told to stop airing “hugging scenes” in dramas. WION.

Saim Sadiq’s Joyland,  Pakistan’s first-ever competitive entry at the Cannes Film Festival won the Jury Prize in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category at the festival. Joyland was also shortlisted by Pakistan’s Oscars Selection Committee as the country’s submission to the 95th Academy Awards.[1] After bagging multiple awards on international platforms and receiving a 10-minute standing ovation at Cannes, the film was stopped from release in the very country it was representing globally. The Internet appeared to be divided after the Pakistani authorities banned Joyland on the grounds that written complaints had been received that the movie contains “highly objectionable material” that does not conform with the “social values and moral standards of our society.”[2] The film was later permitted to release after heavy censorship in all provinces except Punjab, on the grounds that they were ‘receiving complaints’ against the content.[3]

Actions like these raise questions about the apparent hypocrisy that is embedded in entertainment censorship in Pakistan as films like The Legend of Maula Jutt that portray extreme forms of violence and brutality are conveniently passed by the Censor Board while films like Joyland that highlight important and sensitive social issues are restricted. In fact, according to an Al-Jazeera article, when an objection over graphic violence in The Legend of Maula Jutt was raised before the release of the film, the Censor Board chairperson threatened: ‘If anyone cuts anything in this film, I’ll resign.”[1]

Similarly, in 2023, the film Javed Iqbal: The Untold Story Of A Serial Killer was banned two days before it was scheduled to be released. It was later allowed to be released under a different name and again after heavy censorship.[1] Most recently, the film Zindagi Tamasha directed by Sarmad Khoosat faced a challenging journey due to censorship in Pakistan.[2] Despite critical acclaim, the movie was banned by the government, leading to financial losses and limited audience reach. The ban on theatrical release denied the filmmakers the opportunity to earn revenue from box office collections, pushing them to release the film on YouTube for free. This unfortunate outcome underscores the adverse consequences of entertainment censorship in Pakistan, as it poses obstacles for filmmakers in pursuing their artistic vision.

So the question remains: who decides what is acceptable? PEMRA has been criticized for being overly sensitive to religious and cultural issues, leading to the banning or editing of content that may not be objectively offensive but merely challenges conservative norms. This approach is seen as stifling creative freedom and hindering the growth of a diverse and inclusive media landscape. Moreover, it has led to a drastic increase in self-censorship as content creators self-censor to avoid offending or hurting the sentiments of certain groups, as they fear facing public outrage or even threats. In an interview with Samaa News, Javed Iqbal’s director Abu Aleeha stated, “My cinema is not commercial. I can’t show characters singing and dancing. I try not to show abuse and nudity, but if I am making a film on Javed Iqbal, who killed 100 children, then portraying him to be someone other than what he was would be unconvincing to the audience. I have to show reality.” [1]

[1] “Joyland” is Pakistan’s entry for Oscars 2023. (2022, September 30). The Express Tribune.

[1] Saifi, T. S. (2022, November 16). Pakistan blocks national release of “Joyland,” a story of sexual liberation. CNN.

[1] Joyland film: notices issued to Punjab govt, censor board against ban. (2022, November 30). Bol News.

[1] Sharma, S. (2022, October 22). Pakistani film The Legend of Maula Jatt sets a new benchmark. Retrieved August 7, 2023, from

[1] Khan, A. (2023, March 27). Name of Pakistani film “Javed Iqbal” changed, resubmitted to censor board for approval. FactFile.

[1] (2023, August 3). “Zindagi Tamasha” to release on YouTube, Vimeo. The Express Tribune.


While it is true that petitions to ban certain entertainment content in Pakistan often come from the public, it is important to understand that the majority's viewpoint is not always indicative of what is best for a constitutional democratic society. The public's concerns should not be disregarded outright, but decisions regarding entertainment censorship must be made through a careful and balanced process that considers various factors, such as the right to information and freedom of expression as well as the consequences of violating them. By taking certain considerations into account, Pakistan can navigate the complexities of entertainment censorship while upholding its socio-cultural and religious values. Like many other institutions, PEMRA also suffers from politicization and a lack of independence. Therefore, the need of the hour is to establish an independent and impartial body to oversee censorship decisions that target censorship efforts towards areas of genuine concern, such as hate speech, incitement to violence, and sexual abuse, rather than imposing outright bans on content that might stifle creative expression unnecessarily. In fact, the authorities need to define these categories in a way that there is a clear distinction between content that serves an educational purpose and content that propagates harmful ideals. PEMRA's inability to differentiate between the two raises concerns about the potential hindrance to fostering informed discussions and societal awareness.

With the world moving towards creating more inclusive and accepting societies, Pakistan appears to be heading in the opposite direction, as excessive censorship decelerates social progress and points towards an unaware and ignorant society. This restriction on information access can lead to uninformed decision-making by citizens, undermining the essence of democracy. Moreover, censorship's potential for abuse of power, coupled with media self-censorship, threatens media independence, minimizing the public's ability to hold those in power accountable. Additionally, it denies citizens the right to make their own choices about the content they consume by disregarding individual autonomy. To foster a vibrant and inclusive society, it is essential for Pakistan to strike a balance between the legitimate concerns of censorship and the preservation of freedom of expression and cultural diversity. Balancing creative freedom and societal sensitivities in a fairly traditional society like Pakistan requires a thoughtful and nuanced approach. Creating a space for dialogue between artists, filmmakers, religious leaders, policymakers, and the general public can help bridge the gap between creative expression and societal sensitivities, leading to better mutual understanding.

[1] Shahid, U. (2021, November 28). An uncensored history of film censorship in Pakistan. Samaa.