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December 1, 2020 - Comments Off on Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan

Combatting the COVID19 Disinfodemic: A situation analysis for Pakistan

Author: Mehwish Batool 

Mehwish Batool is an academician and researcher currently working at Forman Christian College - A Chartered University

She tweets @Mehwish_Bat00l

Supported by:


Starting December 2019, humankind has witnessed the spread of two deadly viruses. The first one being Covid-19 – a pandemic that has claimed over 1.25 million deaths till now. The second one was a disinfodemic. The damage that the disinfodemic has done is yet to be determined in terms of its scale (many researches are underway), but it has proved no less dangerous than the novel coronavirus.

In this report, we are analyzing Pakistan’s response to Covid-19 related fake news and what can be done to contain the spread of this era of disinfodemic in the wake of the second wave.

What is Disinfodemic?

The term “Disinfodemic” is a combination of two words “disinformation” and “pandemic.” UNESCO coined this term to refer to the wide spread of false information related to the coronavirus. This is a global issue and there is hardly any region of the world that has not been hit by a misinformation or disinformation campaigns around Covid-19. 


The Outbreak of Disinfodemic

The first case of coronavirus in Pakistan was reported on February 26, 2020. But fake news about the virus was spreading way before that. In January 2020, forwarded messages started circulating on WhatsApp about people dying in China due to a “mysterious disease.” Soon after that, a few Facebook pages and Twitter profiles started posting video clips taken from a Hollywood movie and equated them with the situation in Wuhan. Pakistan’s mainstream media was rather careful in its reporting of coronavirus, but that had more to do with its hesitation to comment on anything controversial related to China than the fact that it was exercising any social responsibility.

While most of the initial WhatsApp posts had the usual "قدرتی آفت" (natural calamity) and "خدا کا عذاب "  (divine affliction) narrative, there was a particular forwarded message that advised people not to order anything from AliExpress as the virus can stay on the delivery package for days. The Current ( a Pakistani digital only news outlet)  tried to debunk this myth and advised their readers to not opt for faster delivery in order to reduce their chances of getting infected by the virus:

As it turned out, AliExpress packages did not become the gateway to Pakistan for coronavirus but the virus did reach us eventually. What followed next was a flood of false information related to COVID-19 origin, remedies and how it spreads.

Misinformation and Government’s Response

Social media became the breeding ground of misinformation on coronavirus; with WhatsApp leading the way as the super spreader of this disinfodemic. Controversy theories were on the rise and many social media users were calling this virus a "یہودی سازش" (A Jewish conspiracy) or an aftermath of a 5G experiment. However, there was no sustained disinformation campaign in Pakistan as far as the origin of the virus is concerned. Zarrar Khurro (Twitter : @ZarrarKhuhro), a senior journalist at Dawn, is of the view that in Pakistan, Covid-19 related misinformation was rather harmless than many other countries. “Of course, the typical WhatsApp forwarded messages were there, but we did not see any sustained disinformation campaign here driven out of political agenda like the one we saw in the US.”

Zarrar Khurro is partially right! Most of the fake news around Covid-19 in Pakistan was not politically motivated. It was harmful nonetheless as the majority of social media users believed in such messages without verifying them. WhatsApp chats and Facebook groups were flooded with posts and videos advising people not to visit hospitals as doctors might inject them with poison and sell their dead bodies to Bill Gates/USA/WHO. In an interview for this piece, Dr. Arslan Khalid (@arslankhalid_m), who is Prime Minister’s focal person on digital media, said that this would have become a dangerous pattern if left unaddressed.

In order to prevent this kind of misinformation, the government took two major steps. In March, the government  took all the major digital media portals and influencers on board for an awareness campaign around Covid-19. Digital content from the likes of Nashpati Prime and Bekaar Films gathered good views and sensitized the public about the pandemic:

Apart from this, a committee was formed by the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) in July to prepare a legal framework to counter the spread of false information about the pandemic. This committee worked under the Chairmanship of the Interior Minister retired Brig. Ijaz Shah, while representatives of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MOIB), Health department, the Inter Services Public Relations Pakistan (ISPR), and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were part of the committee too. Dr. Khalid, who is also one of the members of the committee, said that they identified and removed many fake posts that termed Coronavirus as a hoax. He also pointed out that social media companies such as Facebook did not promptly respond to fake news complaints raised by the government and it was difficult for them to identify fake content that was shared in local languages.

The curious case of Corona remedies:

Perhaps the largest number of fake news in Pakistan was related to the cure of the virus. Ranging from immunity boosting drinks that can prevent the infection to home-made remedies that can cure corona positive patients; social media was filled with unverified and false information. According to Ramsha Jahangir (@ramshajahangir) - a journalist and researcher with a focus on technology and human rights - the key factor that led to the rapid spread of misinformation was the novel nature of the virus itself. “The corona crisis was unprecedented; it was new and unknown. There were no hard facts about Covid-19 and the situation was constantly changing. Even WHO had to change its policies a couple of times. Now, it has been eleven months and we still don’t have a definite cure to Covid-19, which is why everybody is coming up with different theories.”

As the number of Corona cases increased in Pakistan; desi remedies recommending the use of garlic, saltwater, onions, lemon juice, senna leaves (sana makki) and ginger have all featured in viral posts on social media. In a matter of a few days, several whatsapp forwards started making rounds suggesting remedies for the cure of coronavirus. Most of these remedies were falsely credited to WHO, UNESCO, US and UK based doctors.

A post went viral in which UK based Dr. Nazir Ahmed, a non MBBS doctor dealing in herbal medicine, claimed that he had cured over 150 Covid-19 patients with tea made out of sana makki. This misinformation was soon debunked but not before the demand of sanna makki reached an all-time high in the country. Some of the government officials also shared such posts on their social media accounts and gave way to corona related rumors.


If we put aside the misinformation that was spread via social media, the government’s core messaging around corona was also problematic to some extent.  We can see that eleven months into the pandemic and we as a nation have not been able to adopt mask-wearing and social distancing practices at a mass level. Dr. Arslan Khalid defends the government “I believe that everybody became a medical expert during the corona crisis. This trend was not limited to social media only; mainstream media also added to the misinformation. The way Plasma therapy was hyped by our media, even though its effectiveness is still unproven, that could have been avoided. It’s not just the government, media and civil society should also sensitize the public.”

Fact-checking efforts around Covid-19:

The cure for Covid-19 pandemic is yet to be found but effective and timely fact-checking can surely cure the disinfodemic. In the wake of the corona crisis, many international organizations have launched fact-checking initiatives that aim to debunk the myths and provide sound scientific guidance. In Pakistan, we can identify  few such initiatives, but their reach and effectiveness is still to be determined. The government of Pakistan, for example, has added a section on its Corona portal  titled Myths about Covid-19. It has also introduced Chatbots on Messenger and WhatsApp and a Fake News counter on the Press Information Department (PID) website. Around 200 influencers have been taken on board by the Prime Minister Office to keep the public well-informed (#ehtiyatcorona Urdu for ‘be careful about corona’).

Apart from this, we have a few independent fact-checking organizations such as Soch Fact-Check, Sachee Khabar, and Surkhi who are working to debunk myths around coronavirus. According to Ramsha Jahangir, there are no dedicated fact-checkers in the mainstream media, but a few organizations such as Dawn and Express Tribune have some fact-checking mechanisms in place.

Fact-checking is being done in Pakistan at some level, but these initiatives have limitations in terms of reach and effectiveness. Misinformation spreads at a rapid speed; and these portals don’t have the capacity to counter false news with the same strength and magnitude. Much more needs to be done now to enhance Pakistan’s response to this disinfodemic.


Using Digital Literacy to fight Fake News:

Now that the country is going through the second wave of Covid-19, there is a dire need to launch Digital Literacy programs and equip the citizens to identify and counter fake news. Zarrar Khurro argues that “Fact-checking has now become a life skill. Everyone should learn to do a basic Google search and reverse image search before forwarding any Covid-related remedy.” It might be easier said than done but there cannot be a better weapon to fight disinformation than to equip the public with fact-checking skills. The consumers of fake news need to be apprised of this disinfodemic and how to counter it. To achieve this goal, a collaboration is required between all the key stakeholders; the government, media, and civil society. Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programs should be designed to address Covid-19 disinformation. Educational institutes could step up to impart fact-checking skills among students. Local body officials can also play an important role by engaging people in their constituencies.

The existing fact-checking infrastructure also needs an overhaul. There must be dedicated fact-checkers in the newsrooms across the country. At the same time, the capacity of independent fact-checking organizations should be increased. Government should actively work with social media companies to identify and debunk any false information related to coronavirus. While doing so, it must keep its personal vendetta aside and should not target the voices through dissent. Our experts have a few more suggestions to curb the disinfodemic:

Zarrar Khurro (Senior journalist – Dawn)

Journalists should exercise caution while reporting corona related information. Always attribute the information to credible sources only.

Government should facilitate independent fact-checkers to debunk Covid related misinformation. Information shared in local languages must be closely monitored for fact-checking. 

Education and Health ministries should collaborate with educational institutions to create Media and Information Literacy (MIL) programs focused on Covid-19. Training programs for teachers, students and parents should be organized.
Ramsha Jahangir (Journalists and Researcher)

Mainstream media has a wider reach than that of independent fact-checkers. The media must step up now and hire fact-checkers in their newsrooms. 

Debunked and fact-checked content must be translated in Urdu and local languages.

We need to create digital literacy programs that do away with the jargons and go down to basics. A common person doesn’t understand the difference between misinformation and disinformation. S/he doesn’t know how to report Fake News on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. These skills should be taught to people in the language that they understand.

Zainab Husain (Managing Editor at Soch Fact-Check) (@ZainabHusainn)

Journalism degree programs throughout the country should introduce mandatory courses on fact-checking and source verification. 

Local media organizations should take advantage of the resources offered by International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) and First Draft. Links: &

Digital media portals that have a good number of followers should exercise some responsibility before publishing viral stories. They should publish only verified information and should regularly debunk myths around coronavirus.

Dr. Arslan Khalid (Prime Minister's Focal Person on Digital Media)

Media should regularly debunk the myths around coronavirus. It seems we have to live with this crisis for more time now, so awareness campaigns on the mainstream media should not be stopped.

We need to tweak the communication strategy in the wake of the second wave. Core messaging can remain the same but we need to expand our delivery channels and address misinformation proactively.

Our health communication strategy needs to be revised in order to prepare a ground for Covid-19 vaccination, if and when it becomes available.


November 19, 2020 - Comments Off on October 2020: DRF launches First Edition of E-zine ‘Feminist Movements Go Online in Pakistan’

October 2020: DRF launches First Edition of E-zine ‘Feminist Movements Go Online in Pakistan’

Online Campaigns and Initiatives 

Launch of e-zine

feminist movement

DRF launches e-zine feminist movements go online in Pakistan. The e-zine discusses the onset of feminist movements in the digital age and how social media has become a tool for rallying feminists online. 

Click here to access first version of our e-zine:


Podcast: “Do Dost aur Digital pe Kacheri”

In this episode two friends, Simran and Fiha (Communication and Design students at Habib University) talk about the criticality of the digital space. From personal experiences to shared insights, from incidents in their physical surroundings to the ones observed in the digital world, it has it all. This podcast casually unveils the power of the online world as well as the lack of it, taking you on a journey of relatable experiences and hushed conversations.

Listen to the podcast here:


A recent Supreme Court observation was hailed as an important precedent when it comes to honor killing in Pakistan. Our legal team chose important segments of the observation and posted it on social media to raise awareness about the document. 


DRF has launched the #ActivismInPandemic campaign highlighting the important work of human rights defenders and journalists have been doing during COVID19. The campaign aims to share experiences of journalists and HRDs during the pandemic and also highlight the importance of managing work and stress during these testing times. 

#MentalHealthAwareness #MentalHealthDay

Following Mental Health Day, our Helpline team shared positive affirmations and different aspects of the mental health discourses. This was an important campaign to stretch past just ‘Mental Health Day’ and use October as a Mental Health Month, given how Pakistani society sees mental health 


As part of the digital security month, we designed an A to campaign to go over the basics of digital security as well as how to be safer online. 

#UnMaskTheTruth #StopSilencingJournalists

In collaboration with Free Press Unlimited, Digital Rights Foundation sent face masks with the taglines Unmask the truth and Stop silencing journalists to the members of our Network of Women Journalists to show solidarity with journalists across the globe in our collective support for press freedom and against violence, censorship and persecution. Members shared their photos wearing the masks with a short quote on why they think it is important for journalists to do their work free from violence and threats. 


On this year’s International Internet Day, the DRF team did a campaign on internet shutdowns and their costs on the digital economy of Pakistan. 

internet shutdown

Questionnaire on personal data and politics

DRF, along with Media Matters for Democracy, is conducting a survey on the use of personal data by the private sector for purposes of political persuasion.

We would really appreciate it if you can fill out our survey (available in English and Urdu).



Policy Initiatives 

Open Data Initiative

mapping gender based

Data, in today’s hyper-digital world, has been monetised and become a site for exploitation. Those who extract, collect and analyse data have acquired immense power, which is often concentrated in the hands of the few.

As a digital rights and feminist organisation, it is our mission to dismantle these structures of power through open data practices. This initiative of mapping online trends through open data principles is a start. We hope this openness and transparency through sharing of knowledge sparks collaborative work that builds on these open data sets to advocate and fight for social justice in both online and offline spaces!

Learn more about our initiative here.

Mapping gender-based violence since the #motorwayincident

This month we tracked incidents of gender-based violence and child abuse since the motorway incident based off reports from English-language newspapers. The dataset can be accessed here.

Disinformation Campaign from Pro-India Accounts

The research team at DRF compiled a list of accounts and tweets disseminating disinformation through extensive Twitter searches online using keywords such as “Karachi”, “Karachi blast”, “civil war” and “FATF” based on an early analysis of sample tweets being identified by fact-checkers in Pakistan. The tweets were catalogued on this spreadsheet which contains 86 tweets originating from a total of 62 accounts.

A report from the data was published and can be found here.

Report: “Availability and responsiveness of gender-based violence helplines in Pakistan” by Digital Rights Foundation and Chayn

Chayn and Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) have collaborated to conduct a comprehensive study of the helplines and resources available to support survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) in Pakistan.

This study was conducted between May and June 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was conducted at a time when infection rates were rising across the country as the state gradually eased several lockdown restrictions. Over this period, reports of GBV, both online and offline, increased around the country.

You can access the report here:

Fact Checking and Source Verification Manual in times of COVID19

DRF launched it’s fact checking and source verification manual in times of COVID19 for journalists and information practitioners with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The manual has been developed keeping in mind this disinfordemic age in times of COVID19. 

You can access the manual here:

Cyber Harassment Helpline September Statistics 


Cyber Harassment Helpline received 473 complaints in the month of September. In comparison to the previous month of August, this number has slightly increased. It shows that there was a spike in the cases of online violence especially blackmailing through non consensual use of information and images.The number of male complainants calling on behalf of their female friends or family members has also increased. Another observed trend is of social engineering through which people are coerced into sharing their personal details like National Identity Card number, WhatsApp code, bank account details and, e-wallet details making them susceptible to hacking and financial fraud. 

Data Privacy Booklet in English and Urdu

DRF with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) released the data privacy booklet in urdu and english highlighting important privacy aspects for young adults. The booklet is specifically designed for young adults and the privacy issues they face online. 

You can access the booklet here in Urdu:

You can access the booklet here in English:

Media Coverage 

What is emotional regulation and why is it so important?

Kashfa Zafar wrote on what is emotional regulation and why is it so important? 

Read the full blog here:

Silent Battles: How Pakistani Women Counter Harassment in Cyberspace

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline provides resources to victims of harassment online especially women who have no place to go. 

Read about the challenges that women face in online spaces here:

Events and Sessions 

Changing the Face of Politics Podcast


DRF’s Nighat Dad took part in a podcast on changing the face of politics with Michelle Bachelet. Nighat Dad highlighted the importance of digital rights and gender equality in a democracy with the former president of Chile Michelle. 

You can listen to the full podcast here:


Ezine Launch: Feminist Movements Go Online in Pakistan
Date: October 20, Tuesday
Facebook live

Digital Rights Foundation launched its two-part e-magazine titled “Feminist Movements Go Online in Pakistan” to talk about the role online spaces have had in the feminist movement in the country. Some of the authors from the first edition of e-zine came together to discuss the themes they explored in their submissions and the importance of online spaces in creating feminist collectives, communities, and consciousness!

Link to discussion:

Report Launch: Availability and responsiveness of gender-based violence helplines in Pakistan
Date: October 7
Facebook live

Shmyla from DRF was in conversation with Hera Hussain from Chyan to talk about the launch of our report on helplines working on gender-based violence in Pakistan. The report was done in collaboration with Chayn (you can follow them on Twitter: @ChaynHQ and check out their own on their website: 

You can watch the conversation here:

Refresher on digital safety tools (for journalists, bloggers, researchers and content creators) - 13th and 14th october

A two-day refresher on basic digital safety tools and techniques was conducted by DRF’s Digital Security Expert to reiterate the importance of integrating these practices in their work, especially in times of Covid-19. Each training was attended by around 10 people each.  

Meeting on creating synergies regarding COVID19 and the human rights situation in Pakistan - NHRF

DRF participated in a meeting on creating synergies regarding COVID19 and the human rights situation in Pakistan by the Norwegian Human Rights Fund. In the meeting DRF’s Nighat Dad highlighted the importance of civil society collaborating and working together in these testing times. 

Rapid Fire Chat


Digital Rights Foundation, held its fourth and fifth RapidFire Chat on 23rd and 29th October. The fourth chat invited two panelists, Sabin Agha and Mehar Khursheed, to discuss the spike in bans and censorship and was moderated by Seerat Khan from DRF. The next chat which was held on the World Internet Day talked about the misogyny of the internet with Saba Bano Malik and Atiya Abbas and was hosted by Huma Umer from DRF. The chats were interactive and fun conversations on otherwise loaded and heavy topics and were meant to have a light conversation during the pandemic when the digital spaces are already laden with workshops, webinars and much more. 

Twitter Chat: Home based workers in digital space

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in a twitter chat by UN Women on home based workers in the digital space. The digital gender divide was highlighted by Nighat Dad along with the added labor that women have to do now due to the pandemic. There was a special emphasis laid on how women need to be empowered more and online spaces need to be made safe for them. 

Girls Education during and beyond COVID19- A live webinar series

Science Fuse conducted it’s 4th webinar on girls education during and beyond COVID19. The webinar focused on creating safes for girls both in online and offline spaces. Nighat Dad of DRF participated in the webinar and shed light on how important it is for women to stand together and make online spaces safe just like offline spaces. 

Do you think internet access is a human right?


DRF conducted a panel discussion on Facebook live on ‘Do you think internet access is a human right’ with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation on the 28th of October. The panel included DRF’s youth ambassadors Tia Aftab, Zahra Jadoon, Usama Khilji of Bolo Bhi and Nighat Dad executive director of DRF. The discussion focused on what is the internet and why internet access is important. 

You can access the Facebook Live discussion here:

Cyber Harassment and Offline harassment on campus? What should institutions do?


DRF conducted a panel discussion on ‘cyber harassment and offline harassment on campus? What should institutions do?’ with Friedrich Naumann Foundation on the 29th October. The panel discussion included DRF’s youth ambassadors Kenizeh Khan, Eshal Siddiqui, Barrister Jannat Ali Kalyar and Dania Mukhtar of DRF. The discussion highlighted the responsibility of institutions to protects its student body and the need to believe victims when they share their experiences of online and offline harassment. 

You can access the Facebook live discussion here:

Legal Clinic Video with Hope

DRF in collaboration with Hope recorded a legal clinic video with Nighat Dad. DRF’s Nighat Dad highlighted the laws one can use to protect themselves online. 

You can access the video here:

Combating Insecurity in the Age of Digital Media Transformations

On 5th and 6th October, DRF organized a workshop for journalists and bloggers on ‘’Combating Insecurity in the Age of Digital Media Transformations’’ in Lahore with Daily Times Newspaper.



The workshop aimed to discourse if the existing media and journalism ethics are suitable for the evolving digital media landscape or new and diverse standards are required to tackle issues of not only advanced digital security (such as malware attacks directed at journalists and media practitioners) but also misinformation and report on online trends. The session also aimed to highlight digital rights and create awareness about the legal landscape that governs digital platforms for the freedom of media and journalists, how to secure their professional and personal data and avoid perilous practices online as many journalists actively use the digital media as part of their jobs but are still unaware of these tools.

How to Tackle Sexual Harassment:

DRF was invited by the Mirror to deliver a virtual talk session on “How to Tackle Sexual Harassment" on 3 October 2020.

Digital Literacy Drive

DRF conducted it's first session from the Digital Literacy Drive series on the 22nd of October, 2020. The session was headed by Zainab Durrani and Danish Umar who discussed the themes of consent, privacy, the legal protections afforded to the Pakistani digital landscape and the impact of gender disparity on the women and gender minorities.

COVID19 Updates

Cyber Harassment Helpline

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms.

You can contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us on [email protected] between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday).

Ab Aur Nahin

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse.

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.

November 19, 2020 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation is gravely concerned by the the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020

Digital Rights Foundation is gravely concerned by the the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2020

November 19, 2020

The confirmation of the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules is cause for alarm given the state of digital freedoms in Pakistan. Digital Rights Foundation (“DRF”) is extremely concerned with both the procedure followed in passing the Rules, devoid of meaningful consultation and transparency, and the implications the Rules have for Constitutional freedoms in the country.

DRF, along with other civil society organisations, boycotted the consultation process conducted by the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication (MoITT) on grounds that the ‘Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020’ notified in January 2020 were not formally de-notified by the government. Despite challenges in high courts across the country, the terms of the consultation process initiated in June 2020 were based on the earlier draft of the rules and the fundamentally flawed section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA). We reiterated our concerns and reservations with the entire process at the time. Our worst fears have been confirmed since then as the government has failed to share the draft of the Rules with any of the stakeholders, including social media companies who participated in the process, and the Rules were notified and only available once Ghazzeted (the rules were published on the MoITT website on November 18, 2020. The entire ‘consultation’ process has been an eyewash to legitimise the Rules which are fundamentally similar to their earlier version.

The only major revision from the earlier draft and the one notified by the government now is the elimination of the body of the ‘National Coordinator’ and these powers have been vested in the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). However, it is alarming that the grounds for removal of ‘unlawful content’ have been expanded beyond the ambit of section 37 of PECA to include sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (sections 292 - 298, 204 and 509) as well as criteria such as “fake or false information.” The definition of “integrity, security and defence of Pakistan” has been expanded to include any information that “harms the reputation of Federal or Provincial Government or any person holding public office” (Rule 4(1)(ii)).  It should be noted that under Indian case law, “security” has been defined to include “those aggravated forms of prejudicial activities which endanger the very existence of the State but do not include ordinary breaches of the peace. We fail to understand how harming the reputation of the Federal or Provincial government undermines the security of Pakistan. It is submitted that such draconian provisions are reminiscent of colonial times, where laws were made with the intent to establish control over the population rather than govern. It should also be noted that sub-statutory rules cannot impose or create new restrictions beyond the scope of the parent act. The defamation law under PECA (section 20) is limited to protecting the privacy or reputation of a “natural person” only, which is to say that only individuals can use the remedy available under section 20. It is submitted that the Federal or Provincial government do not fall under the definition of natural persons and cannot bring a claim under section 20 of PECA. We maintain that section 37 in its form and application is violative of the freedom of expression and right to information enshrined in the Constitution as well as in contravention of Pakistan’s international law commitments. The criteria laid down under Rule 4 exceeds the existing ambit and is ultra vires of the parent act and the powers granted under section 37(2) of PECA.

The powers of removal and blocking of content places immense discretion in the hands of the PTA, without adequate safeguards. While there is provision for review (Rule 11), that review will be conducted by the PTA itself, and the appeals process to the High Court will be the last resort (Rule 12). It is submitted that the remedy for review and appeal provided under the Rules are very limited and narrow. The appeal will be against the review order of the Authority and not against the original order of the Authority. This essentially means that the High Court while hearing the appeal will be limited to adjudication upon the grounds of the review and not the entirety of the record. This limited right to appeal is, therefore, largely ornamental as it leaves the citizens whose fundamental rights have been infringed without an efficacious right of appeal. The powers of banning entire social media applications and platforms (Rule 8) acts as a disproportionate measure to essentially bully service providers and social media companies to ensure compliance with the PTA’s demands. In the past this power has been wielded in an immensely non-transparent manner. There is also no provision for public transparency on what content is blocked or removed by the PTA pursuant to these Rules despite the fact that the removals impact the online freedom of expression and access to information of the public at large. These practices, only bolstered by the Rules, will force some social media companies to leave Pakistan, leaving local users with less choice in terms of the applications and platforms they can access, and leave users with platforms which provide ‘compliant’ services which will be heavily censored, localised and surveilled.

The regulatory uncertainty and onerous restrictions on social media companies in the form of immediate removals (within 24 hours and 6 hours in cases of “emergency” even though the Rules do not define what constitutes emergency cases) will deter investment in Pakistan’s nascent digital economy. Social media companies have already expressed having to “re-evaluate their view of the regulatory environment in Pakistan, as well as their willingness to operate in the country.” These companies are after all businesses in need of a stable and predictable regulatory environment to operate in. Furthermore, these policies will

discourage local businesses and startups--economic activity which the country’s flailing economy desperately needs.

Lastly, the Rules are an affront to the right to privacy as they require social media companies and service providers to hand over data to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in decrypted form, placing a legal obligation on companies to break the encryption in secure and private communications (Rule 9(7)). The Rules also anticipate a future Personal Data Protection Act (the current draft of which requires undefined ‘critical personal data’ to be stored in servers within Pakistan) and require that companies set up “one or more database servers in Pakistan within eighteen months of coming into force” (Rule 9(5)(d)). This move towards data localisation is ill-advised as it jeopardizes the data security of Pakistani citizens.

We can only hope that the institutional checks and balances within the government, the parliament and courts, are able to correct this wrong before irreparable damage to our online freedoms is done. It is incumbent on our judiciary to independently review the legality and constitutionality of these Rules in light of the concerns we and other digital rights groups have raised. Lately, the parliament needs to significantly amend the draconian PECA with a complete repeal of section 37 to ensure the integrity and freedom of the internet.

 The Rules can be accessed here:

 The earlier version of the Rules can be accessed here: 

 Hasnaat Malik, “IHC moved against new rules for regulating social media IHC will hear the case on August 17,” The Express Tribune, August 15, 2020,

 Ramsha Jahangir, “Govt begins consultation on online harm rules,” Dawn, June 3, 2020, 

 “Comments on the Consultation & Objections to the Rules,” July 1, 2020, 

 “[Pakistan] The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) publishes statement on “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules” (23 Oct 2020),” Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), October 23, 2020,

 Romesh Thapper v. State of Madras (1960) SCR 594

 The said section reads “whoever intentionally and publicly exhibits and transmits any information through any information system, which he knows to be false, and intimidates or harms the reputation or privacy of a natural person”

 “[Pakistan] The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) publishes statement on “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules” (23 Oct 2020),” Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), October 23, 2020,

 The draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2020 can be found here:

 We analysed the April 2020 draft of the Personal Data Protection Bill 2020, along with the implications for data localisation, here:

 “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020: Legal Analysis,” Digital Rights Foundation, February 20, 2020, 

“Pakistan’s Online Censorship Regime,” BoloBhi, July 18, 2020 

“Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020: Key Concerns, Objections and Recommendations,” February 2020,


November 11, 2020 - Comments Off on Punjab Police Women Safety App: Old Approach, New Interface

Punjab Police Women Safety App: Old Approach, New Interface

November 11, 2020

This week the Punjab police launched it’s ‘women safety’ android phone application in an effort to leverage technology to enhance policing for women’s safety. After immense and justified backlash in the aftermath of the horrific motorway gang-rape incident in Septemeber, it is not surprising that the Punjab police is attempting to implement women-centric reform. However, as an organisation working on tech and gender for a number of years, the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) sees the approach and the application both as wholly inadequate for tackling the issue of gender-based violence in the country.

The application can be downloaded from Google Play Store here.

What does it do?

The main feature of the application is its ‘panic button’ which can alert the law enforcement authorities regarding an incident of gender-based violence at a particular location. Apart from that, the application provides access to numbers of the following agencies: Punjab Police Emergency Helpline 15, Rescue 1122, Punjab Highway Patrol and Motorway Police.


Furthermore, the application has an ‘emergency live chat’ feature, though it is unclear whether the feature is a chatbot or run by the Punjab Police personnel. There is also a section on laws relating to violence and harassment; however, our team felt that the section needed to be translated into Urdu as well and could do with more visual/video-based content to make the laws more accessible. Lastly, the app crowd-sources safety reviews of different locations across the province, allowing users to pin rate locations as “secure”, “partially secure” and “not secure” according to their experience.


The Location Review feature is a good idea as it allows policymakers to track which locations are marked and unsafe and design policy interventions to rectify the problem. This, however, comes with a caveat as the data will only be meaningful if a large number and diverse set of users contribute to it. Additionally, data collected from these reviews should not be used to justify surveillance and over-policing measures in certain locations, which create additional human rights concerns and issues of discrimination rather than solve the problem of women’s safety.


Currently, the application is only available on Playstore and compatible with Android phones, which excludes those with iOS-based phones. Furthermore, given that Pakistan has one of the highest gender digital divides in the world, the application essentially only caters to women with smartphones and access to mobile internet. According to the GSMA “Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020”, Pakistan has the widest mobile ownership gender gap as women were 38%  less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 49% less likely to use mobile internet. As per a study by LirneAsia, a think-tank based in Sri Lanka, Pakistani women are 43% less likely to use the internet than men.

The digital safety team at DRF reviewed the application to find a number of issues in terms of privacy. Given that the app collects highly personal information including phone number, location access and NIC number, robust data security and protection policies must be in place to ensure that the women using the application can trust the technology. Furthermore, the permissions of the app include GPS and network-based location, phone number, access to phone contacts, media files and storage.

The digital safety team at DRF reviewed the application to find a number of issues in terms of privacy. Given that the app collects highly personal information including phone number, location access and NIC number, robust data security and protection policies must be in place to ensure that the women using the application can trust the technology. Furthermore, the permissions of the app include GPS and network-based location, phone number, access to phone contacts, media files and storage.


Unfortunately, when the team tried to review the privacy policies in place, the link redirected to the ‘Career page’ on the PSCA website,

For anyone using the app, it is apparent that women’s privacy and safety of their personal information was not a priority for the Punjab Police or the developers of this app. For many women reporting a crime of gender-based violence is accompanied by immense anxiety about privacy in terms of their identity and information--without these assurances, women are unlikely to place their trust in the app. In the absence of personal data protection legislation in the country, lack of privacy policies and protocols is a huge concern. Any intervention for women’s safety that neglects to keep their private data safe is counterproductive and wholly incomplete.

Technology as a Silver Bullet for Women’s Safety?

This is not the first time that authorities and tech developers across the world have sought to introduce applications that can address the issue of gender and sexual violence. In fact, this is not even the first time the Punjab government has attempted this, as the current application seems to be a relaunch of an old application developed by the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA) introduced in 2017. Nevertheless, there is increasing consensus within researchers and experts that women’s safety applications are unsuited to adequately addressing the question of violence against women.

Firstly, these applications treat women’s safety as an issue that only occurs in public places and crimes perpetrated by strangers. This approach fundamentally misunderstands issues of violence, which are perpetrated inside the home (domestic violence, marital rape and sexual violence at the hands of family members and ‘trusted’ individuals). This means that applications such as these are only scratching the surface of the violence and harassment that women face in society at large.

Secondly, no amount of technology and applications can solve the systemic problems of misogyny and patriarchal mindsets within the police and public institutions. Often women do not report cases of violence because of societal perceptions around victims and victim-blaming by law enforcement bodies. Technology will not change these attitudes. Applications such as these just provide a new interface for an old institution. Until and unless law enforcement bodies and the legal system, in general, engage in systemic reform at every level, any technological interventions will be rendered superfluous.

Thirdly, surveillance cannot and should not be posited as a solution to women’s safety. DRF has pointed out several times that technological interventions that seek to increase surveillance of women’s movement and bodies in order to ‘protect’ them are simply benevolent and paternalistic patriarchal control in another name. Technology often ends up replicating familial and societal surveillance of women’s bodies which does not truly emancipate or change the root causes of the violence against them.

Fourthly, if the app seeks to serve all women it should take into account issues of accessibility for women and persons with disabilities. Currently, for instance, the app lacks features to make the text and graphics readable for visually impaired persons. The app does come with a video explaining how to use it, however more visual and video content regarding the laws and other features will make it more accessible to women who are not literate.

This application comes less than two months after the motorway incident which shook the mainstream national consciousness on the issue of gender-based violence, particularly rape. It is no secret that the Punjab Police received immense criticism because of the victim-blaming remarks of the CCPO Lahore, Umar Sheikh. As per data collected by the DRF team, through monitoring of English-language newspapers, 123 cases of gender-based violence have been reported in just two months after the incident. Incidents such as these often compel law enforcement to engage in interventions and reform that creates the public perception that steps are being taken to address the problem--however cosmetic changes such as new apps do little to actually change things. ‘Internet Democracy,’ an organisation based in India, has noted that after the 2012 Delhi rape case several ‘women’s safety’ applications emerged. Similar to Pakistan, these technological interventions did little to change the ground realities that women face on a daily basis.


It seems that the Punjab Police has taken a top-down approach to women’s safety by developing (or rather rebranding) technology to ‘protect’ women without taking into account the actual lived experience of women and gender minorities in Pakistan. No effort seems to have been made to consult women’s rights and digital rights organisations when making the technology. Technology cannot be expected to enact social change or facilitate marginalised communities if its design does not incorporate the very communities that it seeks to serve. Additionally, technology cannot be used as a smokescreen to dent criticism of policing and the barriers women face at the hands of law enforcement if it is not accompanied by structural and meaningful reform.


November 2, 2020 - Comments Off on Pakistani students in Wuhan: the other side of the story

Pakistani students in Wuhan: the other side of the story

Autor: Tehreem Azeem

Tehreem Azeem is a digital media journalist and a Ph.D. scholar at the Communication University of China.

She tweets @tehreemazeem

Supported by 

“Can you connect me with any Pakistani student in Wuhan?”

This was the common request I was getting from my friends and colleagues working in media houses of Pakistan. I came to Beijing in September of last year to do a PhD in Communication Studies. Four months later, I saw China battling a novel coronavirus which we all today know as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Some of my friends in the media took my comments too for their stories on the situation of Pakistani students in China but I was living in Beijing, 1,115 km away from the virus-hit Wuhan. They were more interested in connecting with someone from Wuhan. Soon, we realized the media was interested in the ‘we are dying here’ statements only. Many of the students stopped talking to the media as it was not helping them; instead, it was making their families in Pakistan more worried.

Hira* completed her PhD in December from a university in Wuhan. She had booked a flight of late January which got cancelled after the city was put into lockdown. The university had stopped her stipend as she had graduated. Her university allowed her to stay on campus for free the whole period.

‘It was tough. The university was helping us at every level. They gave us masks, sanitizers, and anything we wanted to get from outside. My problem was a bit different. My stipend had stopped. I did not know how long the quarantine would go. I requested the embassy to at least send us (those who had graduated) to Pakistan. We had nothing to do here,’ she said.

She finally left Wuhan on the first flight of Pakistan International Airlines on 19 May 2020. She spent her quarantine talking with Pakistani girls in a WeChat group. That was the time when some students from Wuhan University of Science and Technology released a video on social media in which they said they had limited food supplies and the government must evacuate them. I asked Hira if she was getting the groceries easily in Wuhan.

Screenshot from the video message of Pakistani students of Wuhan University of Science and Technology

‘Yes, that was not the problem. I had rice, pulses, and spices. I could also order groceries online. Prices of few commodities did go high but I would not say that I was not getting anything.’

Hira said the students were scared of the uncertainty of the whole situation. They just wanted to leave China.

Pakistan decided not to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan. The news was immediately picked up by international media. Deutsche Welle news published a video on their YouTube channel with the title ‘Is Pakistan abandoning its citizens in China?’. The anchor talked to a student from the Xianning city of Hubei province to know the living conditions in lockdown. He told him that he could not even go out of the campus and the city was in complete lockdown.

‘There is no transportation. Our city is totally locked down - no trains, no airports. We are just trapped in our rooms and no one is here to help us.’

Later, a TV anchor took senior journalist Shahzeb Jillani on the video link to get his comment on this issue. Jillani clearly said the real reason behind Pakistan’s decision to not evacuate its citizens from Wuhan was Pak-China friendship.

‘The official stance is that Pakistan does not want the disease to spread. It is acting under WHO guidelines and the Chinese have assured them that we will take care of the situation but the real reason we all know is the special relationship between China and Pakistan.’

No doubt, that was the main reason Pakistan refused to airlift its people from Wuhan. The government first announced to provide financial aid to students in Wuhan and later said it will also send food. The students did receive money but that was not equivalent to USD 840 which was promised. Each student in Wuhan received 3500 yuan which makes USD 496. However, eight students of the University of Chinese academy of sciences and twelve students of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural sciences did not receive this money till the end of March. They received the money after the issue was highlighted in a report of Independent Urdu.

The Pakistani media should have investigated these stories but it preferred to disturb our families in China. Social media influencers or bloggers were no different. Comedian Junaid Akram in a podcast while criticizing the government on its stance about students in Wuhan said that he received calls and messages from relatives of people living in China. He said that students in China had not much food to eat and that they were surviving on whatever rations they had.

Junaid Akram released this podcast on 2 February 2020

TV channels in Pakistan showed visuals from the video message of students from Wuhan University of Science and Technology in their news bulletins. Jamal Ahmed was a student of The Communication University of China in Beijing. His family told him to take the first available flight to Pakistan after they watched these reports on TV channels. Ahmed had to buy an expensive ticket and return to Pakistan; otherwise, he had planned to go after his graduation in July. He talked to a couple of journalists before his departure.

‘I told a journalist that China has even closed mosques so people could not gather at any place. The reporter wrote in their report that Muslim students are even not allowed to go to mosques in China. I contacted the person and asked them to correct it. They changed it after half an hour.’

Ahmed stopped watching TV after he returned home. He said watching TV during the outbreak was creating more panic than the virus itself.

Nazish Zafar of BBC Urdu says the media was taking information from the videos students were posting on social media. She says those videos had different messages – some students wanted to come back, and some did not. The media preferred to stay with the videos, which showed panic, helplessness, and fear.

‘Also, there was no official statement to verify and crosscheck their claims of food shortage. President Alvi and the Foreign minister after their visit to China told the media that the students had asked for Pakistani food. This statement somehow confirmed that the students had food-related issues.’

Sisters Sehar Iqbal and Mehar Iqbal are studying Chinese literature at Wuhan University.  They started vlogging in January. They released a video on 26 January 2020 in which first, they showed the masks their university had given them. Later, they went out of the campus to buy groceries for lockdown. They say we don’t know how long we will have to live like this. In their next video, they talked about the situation of foreigners in Wuhan. They said the situation was not as bad as it was being shown.

‘Our teachers are taking care of us. The whole Pakistani community of our university is in a WeChat group. Our representative took details of each student and forwarded it to the embassy. It’s not like we are alone here.’

Both sisters, Sehar Iqbal and Mehar Iqbal share screen in one of their video on YouTube: Screengrab

They also told that the university had opened its cafeterias and supermarkets which normally are kept closed during summer and winter vacations. Dawn news shared their video in a news story. Aljazeera also published their video on its website and social media platforms on 3 February. This video became the most-watched video on its Facebook and Twitter accounts that week. Both sisters talked to many media houses after that giving the same stance that the situation was not as bad in Wuhan as the media was showing.

When I approached them to have their comments for this piece, they told me that the Pakistani students of their university were threatening them for their comments on media. They said to me that the Pakistani community of their university had decided to give a single narrative in media to push the government to send a plane for their evacuation.

They shared screenshots of a few messages they had received on the Chinese messaging app WeChat with me. In one message, a student told them to take permission from him before giving any comment in the media. The student has written in his message that even male students take his permission before talking to the media. He also wrote that the girls were disrespecting him for not doing so.

Iqbal sisters told me that that particular student is still in China. He did not go back to Pakistan when the plane finally arrived in Wuhan.

A friend of them sent them a message to tell that many members of the Pakistani community had asked him for their fathers’ mobile number. Apparently, they wanted to call him to stop their daughters.

They also received a message from a Chinese number on their WhatsApp in which the sender said that they were not supporting their brothers and sisters. In a friend request on WeChat, a person not only abused them but also threatened to leak their biodata.

The girls said that their WeChat id and WhatsApp number was already shared in the Pakistani community. Some students even called their house and talked to their parents.

The girls were in touch with an official in the embassy of Pakistan in Beijing. They shared these screenshots with the officer. The official did not do much except calling the dean of their department who called them and assured of his full support. Iqbal sisters did not file any complaint to the International Students Office of their university. They said they were so afraid and they did not want any of those threats to come true.

Both sisters appeared in Zara Hat Kay of Dawn News on 9th April 2020. In this show, they mentioned that they were receiving threats for their comments. They also told the hosts how their university was taking care of them during the peak of the outbreak.

While talking to me, they said that their university was providing three-time meals, masks, sanitizers, fruits, sanitary napkins for female students, and diapers for the families with children.

A PhD student of their university who wishes to remain anonymous and who had sent them a threatening message said that the community had decided to put pressure on the government through the media for their evacuation.

‘The whole situation was uncertain here. Everything was closed at that time, and we had no idea when things will come to normal at that time. No student from Wuhan University said that they were not getting food supplies. Some of us had medical issues; three women were pregnant. The outbreak was putting them into depression. Some people were above 40 years of age. That is why the community here was pressurising the government for evacuation.’

I also asked him about the threats Iqbal sisters were receiving for not following what the community was directing and sticking with their comments. He said it might have happened and no one should be blamed for it. It was the uncertainty and the fear of getting an infection that made them harsh.

 This single event tells us how user-generated content can affect media reports if not verified or cross-checked. The Iqbal girls went through a lot, more than any of us whose families would call them hysterically after watching TV reports about our situation in China. That was a tough time. It has passed, but we have lost our faith in the media of our country.  

*Names were changed to protect the privacy of the individual(s)

October 27, 2020 - Comments Off on Support Systems and Mental Health

Support Systems and Mental Health

Support System or for that matter Social Help, is frequently recognized as a key segment of strong connections and solid mental wellbeing, however, what precisely does it mean? 

Social help includes having an organization of loved ones that you can go to amid hardships or mental health crises. 

Regardless of whether you are confronting an individual emergency and need quick help, or you simply need to invest energy with individuals who care about you, these connections assume a basic part by the way you work in your everyday life.

Having a couple of individuals, you trust and can go to, can assist you with overseeing regular difficulties, settle on difficult choices or in any event, during an emergency circumstance. 

Support Systems are a significant aspect of our lives. These frameworks incorporate anybody we trust and can go to for help, guidance, or some other sort of enthusiastic help. Our social emotionally supportive network might be comprised of our loved ones; the 

people we uphold; each have their own social emotionally supportive networks that can include: 

  • Family individuals 
  • Friends 
  • Therapists 
  • Teachers 
  • Anyone else whom one can trust
  • Pen pals
  • Or even one’s own pets

At the point when one has a group of strong connections, one benefits in the following ways: 

  • Improved physical and enthusiastic wellbeing.

 Support systems are gainful for keeping up with physical and psychological well-being. Our connections can assist us with remaining dynamic and take part in exercises that we find significant. It can likewise improve our passionate prosperity. 

  • Improved feeling of having a place and security.

 Investing energy with individuals and knowing one is in good company lessens sentiments of confinement and dejection. Having individuals to connect within a period of scarcity can be soothing. Drawing in with other people who have encountered depression, for example, by joining a support group, can assist one with seeing that one is in good company and there are approaches to overcome misery. 

  • Better critical thinking.

One’s encouraging friends who act as our support system can assist us with working out issues and lessen pressure. Friends or family members that are facing the same issues as us, might have the option to furnish us with helpful direction, guidance, and methodologies that have worked for them. 

  • Responsibility.

 Being responsible for another person, or pet has been demonstrated to be a key factor in making a fruitful way of life changes. 

Pets are also a great motivator for people. Dogs especially are great at encouraging owners to get exercise, and this can be beneficial for those suffering from depression. Cats on the other hand are very therapeutic, it’s been scientifically proven that people with heart diseases who’ve kept cats have minimal chances of getting a heart attack.  Pets can also have calming effects on their owner. Just by stroking, sitting next to or playing with a pet can give owning a chance to relax and calm their minds. Caring for a pet also gives your day purpose and reward, and a sense of achievement. It also helps you feel valuable and needed.

We can definitely conclude by saying that a support systems for people suffering from mental health diseases can highly impact their lives positively. It is necessary for one to find a good support system or an environment where one feels motivated to even carry on daily chores that feel difficult for a person suffering from mental health issues. 

October 21, 2020 - Comments Off on September 2020: Digital 50.50, third edition released

September 2020: Digital 50.50, third edition released

Online Campaigns and Initiatives

Digital 50.50 Third Edition

digital 50.50Third Edition of DRF’s feminist e-magazine was launched in September. It covered articles on how individuals and organisations have been navigating the digital spaces during the global pandemic. A very interesting article discussed the transition of civil society organisations and people from other professions to working in the digital. Another article used Taylor Swift’s songs from her new album, Folklore, to talk about dating apps during the lockdown period and is a must read. The magazine can be accessed here.

UN Women A to Z of Cyber Harassment

DRF with the support of UN Women conducted an awareness raising campaign on online violence through social media posts for three months which also included dissecting cyber harassment and its myths through A to Z of cyber harassment. The posts are available on DRF’s Facebook page and Twitter.


While hearing a jail petition for leave to appeal in the case titled 'Muhammad Abbas vs The State', the Supreme Court of Pakistan made observations regarding honour killings in the country. DRF’s campaign ‘#NoHonourInKilling’ aims to shine a light on this and highlight some of the most powerful sections of the order.

honor killing

#PrivacyIsARight: A Digital Campaign for VPNs

DRF conducted an awareness raising campaign through social media on the right to privacy in Pakistan’s context. This included a week-long series of posts discussing encryption, VPNs and details of international treaties with privacy implications that Pakistan is signatory to, as well as a panel discussion titled ‘Understanding VPNs: A Deep Dive into Privacy in Pakistan’. This was cast live via DRF’s Facebook page and is available for viewing there.


DRF has launched the #ActivismInPandemic campaign highlighting the important work human rights defenders and journalists have been doing during COVID19. The campaign aims to share experiences of journalists and HRDs during the pandemic and also highlight the importance of managing work and stress during these testing times.

DRF launched the Digital Rapid Fire Chat

DRF launched a new initiative, Digital RapidFire Chat, to discuss issues around online freedom of expression and press freedom in the country. The Digital RapidFire was based on the idea that with the lockdown and the digital space being loaded with talk shows, workshops and webinars, DRF wanted to create a space where panelists could discuss serious, and heavy-loaded issues in a fun, interactive way and through some 'burning questions' that also reduces the cognitive load of the audiences. The first Chat was scheduled for 11th September, for which the decided format could not be implemented as the Motorway rape incident happened so the topic was changed to “Ab Aur Nahin: Ending violence against women's bodies”. For the second Chat, we asked questions from our panelists on  “How feminists in Pakistan deal with online hate?”. A hamper from our team was sent to the panelist who answered more questions, and unmasked the truth behind these issues in a non-triggering and humorous way.

Policy initiatives

DRF part of coalition with International Media Foundation

DRF has joined the coalition with International Media Foundation which focuses on working on journalist safety online and offline. The coalition and DRF has been raising a voice and condemning against online harassment and attacks on journalists during COVID19.

The Adal Aur Sehat Project and DRF collaborate for a session on Cyber Crime Laws, Prevention and Remedies


DRF collaborates with the Adal Aur Sehat Project in a session focusing on Cyber Crime Laws, Prevention and Remedies for the masses. DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke to Adal aur Sehar on the topic and highlighted the legal remedies available to people to counter cyber crime in the country.

Helpline August Stats

Cyber Harassment Helpline received 309 complaints in the month of August. In comparison to the previous months during lockdown, this number has decreased. It shows that there was a spike in the cases of online violence especially blackmailing through non consensual use of information and images during lockdown which has now decreased a little. Another observed trend is of social engineering through which people are coerced into sharing their personal details like National Identity Card number, WhatsApp code, bank account details and, e-wallet details making them susceptible to hacking and financial fraud.

Statement on Shaheena Shaheen’s brutal murder

Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights issued a statement to strongly condemn the murder of Shaheena Shaheen and demands that there should be adequate follow-up by the state to ensure that the accused is prosecuted and a possible settlement does not impact the prosecution. The statement was signed by around 60 journalists and three women journalists’ coalitions. It can be accessed here.

Media Coverage

Step by Step Guide on How to Report Cyber Harassment in Pakistan

Technology Times covered the step by step guide to report cyber harassment in Pakistan. DRF’s Nighat Dad explained the forms of cyber harassment in online spaces and how to report them to law enforcement agencies.

Read the full article here:

New Controls on the Internet in Pakistan

DRF’s Nighat Dad Dad spoke to NayaDaur on New Controls on the Internet in Pakistan. Raza Rumi moderated the session and Nighat Dad highlighted the recent controls on the internet and how social media companies and the government need to be held accountable for these controls on the internet.

Watch the full discussion here:

Events and Sessions


DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke with Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon on how important it is to strengthen free media and tackle intimidation of female journalists.

Data Privacy and Public Health – All Fair in Love and War?

DRF took part in a webinar in collaboration with the Centre of Biomedical Ethics and Culture (SIUT). The webinar sought to focus on the use of private health data during public health emergencies raises ethical concerns, especially in Pakistan where oversight and regulation of such processes is questionable. The webinar explored the following questions: 1) Do healthcare establishments (private and public) understand what is at stake when private health information is being shared/ monitored? 2) Does the public fully understand it? 3) Are public health officials and government departments cognisant of the consequences of these technologies?

Link to discussion:

Post COVID Futures: Can technology build architecture for democratic governance?'

DRF participated in a policy roundtable on the role of technologies in a post-Covid future on September 29th, exploring issues of access and the role technology plays in democratic governance. The roundtable included experts from the tech and media industry as well as members of civil society.

DRF takes part in the IAF seminar, “Making Magic Seminar 2020”

DRF team member, Arslan Athar, took part in an IAF Seminar, “Making Magic”, which was an intensive training about digital facilitation and online campaigns. The seminar was a week long, with participants from all over the world, and experts from the field of event and campaign management coming in to speak to the cohort.

DRF takes part in an online program organized by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF)

The FNF organized a visiting program on "Propaganda, Automation and Digital Politics" which was conducted digitally from the 7th to 10th September 2020.

“Has The PTA Swiped Left On Love?”

DRF spoke to Atiya Abbas, who wrote for our feminist e-magazine, Digital 50.50, about her experiences speaking to people to Tinder for research. Following the ban on Tinder and other dating apps in Pakistan, we asked Atiya about the effects of the ban on Pakistani society and what Tinder really meant to a lot of people, who used it for networking, rather than just dating.

DRF Cyber Harassment Helpline Webinar Series

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline conducted a series of webinars ‘Deconstructing Cyber Harassment’ with the support of UN women to discuss digital safety practices, legal remedies and psychological impact of online violence. Our DRF team of expert guest speakers each contributed their unique experiences and expertise; focusing on strategies for listeners to better protect themselves to reduce risk and vulnerability in the backdrop of increased harassment and violence offline and online.

Jinnah Institute Policy Roundtable Post COVID Fututes: Technology and Social Integration in South Asia

DRF participated in the Jinnah Institute Policy Roundtable on Post COVID Futures: Technology and Social Integration in South Asia. DRF’s Nighat Dad focused on how technology has enabled positive governance and participation in politics and also highlighted the integration of technology in South Asia.

Facts Not Filters - FPU

DRF is collaborating with Free Press Unlimited on a project  - Facts Not Filters - in which international students of Royal Dutch Arts Academy will be exploring the different geographical contexts, including Pakistan, in which journalists work. DRF’s Program Manager, Maryam Saeed, and two journalists from the Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights, Sabin Agha and Umaima Ahmed, explained the context of Pakistan and the challenges that women journalists face because of their profession and gender.

#KeepItOn Webinar

DRF participated in the webinar Fighting against Internet Shutdowns in 2020 through strategic advocacy. Nighat Dad of DRF spoke with a panel of experts about internet shutdowns in 2020 and how these shutdowns are becoming frequent. They highlighted how these shutdowns are unconstitutional and must be put to a stop.

Workplace Safety- Creating Safer and Inclusive Work Cultures

DRF participated in the Workplace Safety Creating Safer and Inclusive Work Cultures. Nighat Dad shed light on the workplace harassment act and highlighted that implementation of the law is important along with the importance of reform within the legislation.

Digital Detox and Self Care

An online training was conducted by Saba Sabir from DRF with female digital journalists from our Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights on digital detox and self-care. The training focused on identifying digital burnout and implementing strategies for well-being in the digital space. Through the training, DRF intended to empower journalists to create more mindful, meaningful, well-rounded lives both online and off while not letting their profession be affected.


Virginity Tests and Assessment of Victim’s Character in Rape and Sexual Assault Cases: Legal Perspectives

This panel discussion was arranged by the LUMS Law Alumni Association in collaboration with the LUMS Law Journal. Our team member moderated the group discussion. Video is available on:

Understanding VPNS #PrivacyIsARight

DRF conducted a session on Understanding VPNs on the 7th of September, 2020 with three esteemed panelists. We had Usama Khilji of Bolo Bhi, Hera Hussain, CEO of CHAYN Organization and Mubariz Siddiqi, General Counsel for Sarmayacar with Zainab Durrani (Project Manager, DRF) moderating the panel.

The discussion revolved around the workings of VPN, myths and lies associated with it, usage and its types, the call for registration of VPNs by PTA and the impact of regulating VPNs, from a human rights and business perspective.

Tackling Misinformation during times of COVID19

DRF conducted two sessions on Tackling Misinformation during times of COVID19 on the 23rd and 25th of September. The session was conducted with journalists and other relevant stakeholders where a much needed conversation took place around how misinformation has increased during the pandemic. The session was possible with the help and support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF).

Hamara Internet Online Safety of Young Adults Sessions

DRF conducted a series of sessions under the Hamara Internet program on Online Safety of Young Adults in Pakistan.The sessions took place with young adults in which different themes on online safety and violence were highlighted. The sessions were conducted by DRF’s youth ambassadors who discussed different themes like online harassment, data protection, privacy, cyber bullying, online safety and fake news in detail. The youth ambassadors were divided into two groups and a total of 8 sessions took place for the participants who were from across Pakistan. The sessions were possible with the help and support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF).

Training on Online Safety training with ASR

DRF conducted the three day residency training on Online Safety with team ASR focusing on how the organization should keep their data safe and how they should protect themselves online.

Online Session Cyber Security Fatima Jinnah University Session

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke in an online session with Fatima Jinnah University on Cyber Security. She presented the DRF helpline as a resource to cyber harassment and also focused on keeping privacy settings strong on social media. The session was attended by 170 students from Fatima Jinnah University.

Online Safety Training with HRD’s in Sindh



DRF’s Nighat Dad conducted an Online Safety session with human rights defenders in Sindh highlighting the importance of privacy online and also introducing the cyber harassment helpline as a resource to counter violence online.




Lincoln’s Corner Session - Janat

On September 23, Jannat Fazal program manager cyber harassment helpline moderated a session on why i didn't report at Lincoln's corner sindh. The session focused on the reasons that prevent assault victims from coming forward with their complaints. It also focused on the systemic oppression  of the authorities that dissuades victims.

COVID19 Updates

Cyber Harassment Helpline

Cyber harassment helpline is now available 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm through its toll free number and social media platforms. Because of the observed increase in cyber harassment complaints during COVID 19 lockdown, DRF had made its cyber harassment helpline operational 24/7 for three months and now that the lockdown is lifted and a decrease in complaints has been observed, the helpline is back to functioning as per usual.

Contact the helpline on 080039393 or email us on [email protected] between 9 am to 5 pm (monday - friday). You can also reach out to us on our social media channels.

Ab Aur Nahin

In times of COVID19 domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. Ab Aur Nahin is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse.

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.

October 10, 2020 - Comments Off on Understanding What Anxiety Looks Like

Understanding What Anxiety Looks Like

Written by Saba Sabir

On this mental health day we would like to break the stigma associated with mental wellness. Stress is a real problem that negatively impacts health and safety.

We often do not realize that we’re stressed until it begins to consume us and we aren’t always good at identifying signs of stress and burnout in ourselves. In fact, sometimes it is easier for another person to point them out. It is important then to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stress and any changes we might experience in our minds, bodies, and routines. Mentioned below are some signs and symptoms which are indicative of high levels of stress and anxiety. We can then work towards managing stress after understanding how it manifests in our bodies.

October 10, 2020 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation Expresses Concern Over Recent Ban On Popular Social Media App, TikTok

Digital Rights Foundation Expresses Concern Over Recent Ban On Popular Social Media App, TikTok

Earlier today, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) banned the popular video app, TikTok in Pakistan. According to the press release posted on Twitter by the PTA, the Authority claims to be acting on a large number of complaints about content on the app ‘from different segments of society’. The PTA also claims that despite multiple notices, the app continued to post indecent content, finally resulting in the ban of the app. Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is greatly disturbed by this rising tide of online censorship in Pakistan and exercise of arbitrary powers by the PTA in attempting to control free expression on the internet.

The PTA, on July 20, 2020, sent its final notice to TikTok over concerns of ‘immoral and indecent’ content on the app. At the same time, the PTA had banned the live streaming app, ‘Bigo Live’. DRF condemned the move at the time. As an organization that works on digital rights, DRF finds these developments extremely distressing and disturbing. These bans are a blatant violation of freedom of speech online. This ban comes at a time when the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020 have been ‘ratified’ by the Cabinet without any transparency with the public. These Rules will further strengthen the ability of the PTA to remove and block access to an online content which goes against the ‘interest of Islam, integrity, security and defence of Pakistan, public order, public health, public safety, decency and morality’ as well as content that is deemed to constitute an offence under the Pakistan Penal Code or the Code of Criminal Procedure.

TikTok has been widely popular among young Pakistanis, downloaded around 39 million times in the country, who used to use the app as a way to express themselves. The app allowed for instant virality and popularity, which gave a lot of young Pakistanis, who lacked access to the ‘entertainment industry’, a level playing field to showcase their talent. Significantly, TikTok was a medium of expression for women, gender minorities and individuals from all social backgrounds as many content creators challenged racial/ethnic stereotypes, patriarchal attitudes and class barriers. Additionally, the app also democratized access to the entertainment world and helped to create a healthy ecosystem of digital content. TikTok helped content creators on the app enjoy a new stream of income, thereby creating a new segment of the digital economy of Pakistan.

The PTA, on its pulpit for moral policing, has used vague terms such as ‘morality’ and ‘decency’ to regulate the internet without any transparency and accountability. As DRF has pointed out before, the Authority has failed to mount any objective standard for these terms and used it as a tool to morally police the internet.

A complete and blanket ban of TikTok is a disproportionate response to blocking potentially objectionable and harmful content on the platform. In fact, TikTok has been more than compliant to PTA’s requests as Pakistan is among the top five markets in terms of content removals over violations of its community guidelines. Furthermore, the company also issued its community guidelines and standards in Urdu. It is obvious that the PTA’s concern is not the safety of users or removal of harmful content as women TikTokers reaching out to DRF for months were never extended any form of support by the government, rather the ban is a tool to exert more control over online spaces by bullying social media companies into complying with user data requests and compliance for data removal requests for political content.

This is a crossroads for digital rights and online freedoms in Pakistan, we must push back to resist attempts to control our online spaces. The draconian legal regime imposed by the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 needs to be dismantled, particularly the removal of provisions such as section 37 which allows for wide powers to remove and block content as well as removal of section 20 (criminal defamation) which is used to silence women, journalists and victims of sexual violence time and time again. The time has come for the average internet user to stand up for their rights and resist!

September 25, 2020 - Comments Off on What Is Emotional Regulation And Why Is It So Important?

What Is Emotional Regulation And Why Is It So Important?

By Kashfa Zafar

Have you ever felt hangry? If you’re human, chances are that you’ve been so hungry at some point that you were extremely irritated by everything and everyone around, but you were probably too agitated to realize that your bad mood was the result of a fairly common human experience – hunger. Emotionally heightened experiences can be really overwhelming resulting in cognitive overload; Your mind might respond by ‘shutting down,’ suspending your abilities of rational judgment. That is why for someone observing your behavior, you might seem like a less-than-stable individual. Of course, you know that you’re not some irrational person but in the case of experiencing ‘hanger,’ even you might be surprised by the things you say or do without realizing the reasons behind your seemingly ecstatic behavior. If only you knew that you were simply hungry, and the solution to your troubles was just a refrigerator door away. Wouldn’t that make your life easier?

Well, the good news is that there’s definitely a way. It’s called emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to exercise control over your emotional state so you’re in a better position to respond appropriately to the demands of a given situation. Emotional regulation skills obviously extend far beyond the scope of simply experiencing hanger. These skills are positively correlated to your social and emotional intelligence and can provide effective management skills for those experiencing depression and anxiety. 

The key in developing emotional regulation skills is to cultivate and practice mindful awareness. When you find yourself in an emotionally provocative situation, remove yourself physically from that negative space and redirect your attention towards what you’re feeling physically. Notice how your body feels. Does your chest feel tighter? Is your heart racing? Are you experiencing a headache? Whatever the case maybe, you can applaud yourself for practicing what is known as cognitive reappraisal. Instead of focusing too much on your negative thoughts and feelings, you have now managed to divert your mind towards how these negative effects present themselves physically in your body. When you do this, you are regaining control over your judgment and actions and not letting your emotions drive your thoughts and behavior. Cognitive reappraisal is a simple yet highly effective tool used in many different types of psychotherapies. It the ability to reframe your cognitions or alter your way of thinking. So, in the case above, you have reframed your experience of the situation because instead of focusing on your negative feelings and thoughts that might have negatively affected your perception of the given circumstances, you’ve concentrated your attention to somewhat neutral bodily sensations. 

Now that you’ve rerouted your thoughts from the situation onto yourself, the next step is to explore your feelings. Simply acknowledging that you’re feeling ‘bad’ or ‘mad’ is only a start. Dig a little deeper and notice what kind of negative emotions you’re feeling. If possible, write them down. Ask yourself what emotion might be masking itself in the form of anger. Sadness? Guilt? Shame? Hopelessness? For this, you have to be honest with yourself. Execute the same mindfulness that you practiced when noticing how your body felt. Without judging what comes up for you, identify both the surface-level as well as hidden emotions. By practicing this exercise over time, you’ll not only be able to develop and refine your emotional awareness, but you’ll also be able to tell what kind of emotional experience you’re having by simply noticing how your body feels. Each emotion has a physiological reaction in the body, and because you would have monitored the physical manifestation of the identified emotion, you’ll know how to regulate your behavior without being emotionally flooded. 

Once you’ve become regular in the practice of emotional regulation, you’ll feel you have greater self-control even in the face of the most pressing and pressurizing situations. Instead of letting your emotions control you, you’ll be able to take charge of your life, be it personal, social or professional.