March 3, 2022 - Comments Off on January 2022 Newsletter: DRF Launches 5th Edition of Digital 50.50; Feminist E-Magazine on GBV

January 2022 Newsletter: DRF Launches 5th Edition of Digital 50.50; Feminist E-Magazine on GBV

Policy Initiatives

DRF Launches 5th Edition of Digital 50.50; Feminist E-Magazine on GBV

DRF launched it's last edition of Digital 50.50 for 2021 in January. The issue focused on fighting gender based violence and covered features and research articles penned down by our network of women journalists. It can be accessed on DRF's website here:


New Issue of Hamara Internet

After a successful relaunch of our Hamara Internet website, DRF launched new content on the website! New Vlogs, Blogs and E-Bulletin articles were shared on the website with the theme being gender based violence.The content shed light on varying forms and aspects of gender based violence on society at large.

Visit the HI website here:

DRF backs Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, Amendment 2022.

The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act, 2022, drafted by the Ministry of Human Rights with input from women’s rights groups & lawyers has been lauded as a ‘revolutionary step’.

Read more:

Submission to Special Rapporteur on Right to Freedom of Expression

DRF made  a submission to the Special Rapporteur on Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression for a report on “Opportunities, Challenges and Threats to Media in the Digital Age”.

Submission can be found on our website here.

Stories of Women Journalists: Initiative launched by DRF to support Journalists in Pakistan

DRF launched its “Stories of Women Journalists” an important initiative thatt sheds light on the real life experiences of women journalists in relation to experiencing cyber harassment and online abuse. The stories are real life accounts of the varying forms of harassment women in the field have had to face as a consequence of choosing a profession in journalism in Pakistan.

DRF Commemorates Annual Data Privacy Day

In honour of Data Privacy Day being observed world over on 28th January. DRF shared important discussions held at its 8th National Data Privacy Conference in Islamabad, which occurred in November of 2021. DRF has done extensive work on data privacy through it's Data Protection & Privacy portfolio. Privacy is a core tenet of the advocacy work we do, and we have conducted various studies & researches on this topic.


Here is some of our research:

Also, you can access all the panels held at the conference at the link to our YouTube channel here:

Panels and Webinars

Nighat Dad speaks as Guest Lecturer at ITU on Surveillance and Data Privacy

Nighat spoke at Information Technology University as a guest lecturer for a course on 24th January, 2022. She discussed the relevant topics of surveillance and Data Privacy in today’s day and age.The theme discussed was  contextualized in Pakistan.

Nighat Dad speaks at American Bar Association Virtual  Event on Data Security and Digital Privacy

Our Executive Director, Nighat, spoke at the virtual session hosted by the American Bar Association on 'Data security and digital privacy in the Asia-Pacific region', on 26th Jan alongside Michael Pang (@Protiviti), and Patel Champa @patel_champa (@CrisisGroup).

Events and Training Sessions

DRF Attends Stakeholder Consultation Hosted by UNDP on Gender Gap in Tech

DRF attended the Stakeholder Consultation: Time to Close the Gender Gap in Tech by UNDP in which a much needed discussion around gender and technology took place. DRF shared it’s own research on the subject and how more needs to be done in order to make the internet a safer and inclusive space.

Media Coverage

Executive Director of DRF, Nighat Dad was mentioned in an article produced by UNDP regarding the Development Advocate Pakistan project review. For the report, “The Equality Paradigm, Nighat was quoted saying, "Digital technologies are central to human rights activism in bearing witness of lived realities, developing campaigns for human rights and placing demands of govts & the international community.”

DRF Speaks with  Creators of Comic “Digital Rights and Feminist Futures”

DRF spoke to the creators of the Comic “Digital Rights and Feminist Futures” and to gain an insight into the motivation, creative process and ideation that went behind the brilliant piece.

Read the blog featuring @azizalaziza & @SiddiquiZuha here:

Nighat Dad’s Work Featured in Feminish Tech Principles Initiative

Our Executive Director Nighat Dad was featured in Feminist Tech Principles put together with Superrr Lab. She was asked to share her “Feminist Tech Principle” which she stated as “acccessibility, equitable participation and representation.” You can find her contributions here:

You can access groovy and interesting website for Feminist Tech Principles here:

Covid-19 Updates

In January of 2022,  the Cyber Harassment Helpline recorded 191 complaints received, out of which 160 complaints were calls.

We predominately dealt with cases or cyber harassment & received a number of complaints by journalists who were receiving threats and ongoing instances of hacking. If you are experiencing any form of cyber harassment or suspect someone may be, do not hesitate to reach us at 0800-39393 or contact us on our social media platforms.


February 22, 2022 - Comments Off on Civil Society Strongly Condemns the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022

Civil Society Strongly Condemns the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022

February 22, 2022

We, a coalition of civil society organisations, are alarmed by the enactment of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance, 2022 as it is an affront to online free expression in the country, amounting to unprecedented censorship and chilling of free speech in digital spaces. The Ordinance runs afoul of Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees freedom of expression. Furthermore, the process by which the amendments have been made, arbitrarily and via Ordinance bypassing Parliament, is an affront to democratic values.

The Ordinance expands on the already problematic section 20 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA) to make it a non-bailable offence. The offence of criminal defamation under section 20 has already been used to target journalists, political opponents and survivors of gender-based violence, leading to calls from civil society to repeal the section. Instead of paying heed to these calls, the government has, in a blatant disregard to human rights, chosen to expand the section further to apply to legal persons as opposed to “natural persons” as was previously covered. This Ordinance seeks to include defamation of “public figure or a holder of public office” within the ambit of the section which will have the effect of insulating those in power from any criticism. It is obvious that the sole purpose of this Ordinance is to make it criminally punishable to criticise the state and its officials, against settled jurisprudence that extends protections through defamation to private persons as opposed to public figures who lesser protections.

Furthermore, criminal defamation is internationally recognised to be violative of the freedom of expression, especially when civil remedies exist in the law. While the freedom of expression under the Constitution is not absolute, it bears noting that defamation is not part of the provisos to Article 19 in the Constitution. The amendments, additionally, which mean the expansion of criminal sanctions on the fundamental right to free speech are neither proportionate (as they expand the term of punishment from 3 to 5 years) nor necessary.

Secondly, the use of an Ordinance to amend a law passed by Parliament is extremely worrisome and part of an alarming trend where the government is using its extraordinary powers of Ordinance-making to erode the powers of the Parliament and lawmaking institutions. This is a blatant disregard for the Constitution, which only allows for ordinances to be in extraordinary situations when parliament is not in session and cannot be called into session to address an issue that requires immediate action. Furthermore, this is violative of the principle of the separation of powers as the executive branch through the cabinet and President are overstepping into the legislature’s domain. It is obvious that the government does not wish to pass laws through consultation, allowing no opportunity for discussion or debate–the very objective of the Ordinance itself.

We call on the citizens of Pakistan to recognise this Ordinance for what it is–an attack on their Constitutional right to free expression and access to information. If allowed to stand, this Ordinance will have the effect of completely silencing any differing opinions or forms of expression in the country. It is imperative that opposition parties, who erred when they promulgated PECA in the first place, course correct and block this Ordinance from becoming a permanent feature of the law. Lastly, the government is urged to immediately withdraw the Ordinance and refrain from presenting it for assent once the three-month lifespan of the Ordinance lapses. Instead, we call upon all political parties to repeal section 20 should be done through the Parliament given that it runs afoul the Constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.


Alliance for Diversity and Pluralism in Media (ADPM)
ASR Resource Center
Bolo Bhi
Courting The Law
Digital Rights Foundation 
Freedom Network 
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan
Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA)
Joint Action Committee (JAC)
Media Matters for Democracy 
Pakistan Press Foundation 
Public Lawyers’ Front (PLF)

January 21, 2022 - Comments Off on December 2021 Newsletter | 16 days of Activism Campaign with Ministry of Human Rights, 2021

December 2021 Newsletter | 16 days of Activism Campaign with Ministry of Human Rights, 2021

Policy Initiatives

16 days of Activism Campaign with Ministry of Human Rights, 2021

For 16-days of Activism against Gender-based violence. The theme for 2021 was “Orange the World: End Violence Against Women Now!” DRF was honoured to collaborate with esteemed government body, Ministry of Human Rights to launch a joint campaign tackling the subject of gender-based violence, and the intersection between violence in online and offline spaces.

DRF designed and spearheaded the campaign with posts almost everyday, touching on a variety of important issues related to 16-days. From November 25th, 2021 to December 10th, 2021, DRF and MoHR posted a series of posts which were informational, focused on raising awareness and finding solutions to the pervasive issues of harassment and cyber harassment which women deal with on a daily basis. This 16-day period was concluded on International Human Rights Day.

DRF was thrilled to be partnering with the prestigious Ministry, currently lead by Shireen Mazari, to come up with a campaign that had significant reach and impact during this period.

#16daysofactivism #Endviolenceagainstwomennow

Cyber-Harassment Helpline Turns 5!

On December 5th, 2021 the Cyber-Harassment Helpline celebrated 5 years of providing services to survivors of cyber harassment, domestic abuse and overall violence. Over the last 5 years, the Helpline has catered to 11,300 complaints by providing professional guidance, mental health assistance and legal advice.

We are proud of the efforts of our Helpline team, and hope to continue the work we are doing to deal with the rampant cyber-harassment that exists in this country, and beyond its borders, too.

Hamara Internet Second Issue Highlights the work of Women Journalists

DRF’s Hamara Internet initiative, which aims to create a space online where women can reclaim the internet through sharing blogs, vlogs and articles based around their life experiences, released its second issue. This issue focused on the trials, tribulations and experiences faced by women journalists in Pakistan as they navigate through the hate and abuse they receive online by virtue of pursuing their careers in the media.

Head over to the link to check out the revamped Hamara Internet website:

Human Rights Day Shed Light on Journalists and Amendments to Journalist Protection Bill

DRF concluded its 16-days of activism campaign by speaking to women journalists about the struggles they are confronted with as a result of pursuing journalism in Pakistan. This was a fitting end to the campaign and discussed the human rights violations present in the country with regard to journalism, and the progress and steps taken by the Ministry of Human Rights to provide increased protections to journalists.

Journalists we spoke with also talked about the significance of campaigns like #16Days in raising awareness about violence against women.

DRF calls on EU to Impose Sanctions on NSO Group over Pegasus Surveillance Tech

DRF was among the 86 organisations that have called on the EU to impose sanctions on the NSO group that distributes Israeli company Pegasus' surveillance tech.

Pegasus is spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be unknowingly installed on mobile phones operating on iOS and Android. The 2021 Pegasus software was exposed for its true purpose in the later half of 2021and its effects continued to spill over till the end of 2021, with more Rights organizations urging for calls to action.

Read the article by the Guardian here:

DRF sets up Online Portal with IWF to report Images of Child Sexual Abuse Online

DRF has partnered with IWF to create a portal for the purpose of reporting child sexual abuse online. Child sexual abuse online through the uploading of images/videos of children is a crime and a human rights violation.

DRF has partnered with IWF to create a portal for the purpose of reporting child sexual abuse online.

Report here on our website:


Nighat Dad lobbies for “Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill” Amendments

Digital Rights Activist and Executive Director at DRF@nighatdad briefed the Senate Standing Committee on the relevant Human rights regarding the “Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Bill, 2021”.

Training Sessions

DRF and Ministry of Human Rights Collaborate through Training

As part of the 16-days of activism campaign with MoHR, DRF’S Cyber Harassment Helpline team conducted a training session on 8th December, 2021  in Islamabad. Helpline Officers from MoHR’s Toll-free Helpline were told how DRF differentiates between cyber harassment and other forms of harassment. PECA and its use and implementation was also discussed along with a fruitful discussion around possible collaborations in the future.

Both teams shared their experiences and knowledge gained through providing services to victims of violence, whether online or offline.

Virtual Gender Sensitization Training with Journalists

DRF conducted a gender sensitization training with journalists online from across Pakistan during the 16-days of activism campaign. The session focused on how to report on gender based violence and the role and responsibility of the media while reporting such cases. The session took place on 8th December, 2021.

DRF holds Mentorship session with Saher Ghazi on Digital Media

Digital Rights Foundation conducted a mentorship session with digital media strategist and trainer Saher Ghazi on Pitching stories for Digital media. The session was attended by DRF’s Network of Women Journalists on 29th December, 2021.

Panels,Webinars and Press

Panel “Community-centric approaches to ending violence against women”

To scale up the debate around activism to end gender-based violence during 16-days of activism, UNDP in Pakistan's PunjabSDGsUnit and HomeNetPakistan jointly hosted a panel discussion on  ending #VAW and rehabilitation of victims into society, to #LeaveNoOneBehind.

Nighat Dad was invited as a speaker to discuss the issue at the panel.

Stay with us for updates!

Nighat Dad speaks at Open Government Partnership, Korea 2021.

On Dec 17th, 2021 Nighat Dad spoke at the Inclusive Digital Innovation Plenary

and highlighted the importance of understanding that safety on online spaces is not experienced uniformly across varying contexts, cultures and circumstances.

Nighat said, "For instance, women journalists are more likely to experience online violence and abuse than their male counterparts."

Nighat Dad attends UN’s Internet Governance Forum Poland, 2021

Nighat Dad spoke at the main session of #IGF2021 about regulations that are being badly framed or narrowly cover issues, this do more harm than good & we can’t come up with universal standards without addressing the imbalance of North-South regulatory approaches over content. She linked the Oversight Board of Facebook that Nighat is a part of.

Nighat Dad speaks at Panel “The Chilling Effect: Hate, Misogyny and the Digital Information Disorder”

Nighat spoke at panel “The Chilling Effect: Hate, Misogyny and the Digital Information Disorder” on December 7, 2021. The panel was about the digital space which continues to extend the promise of extraordinary opportunities for expanding the voice and agency of women, girls and marginalized groups, it has fallen short of our ideals. The panel discussed the impact of the chilling effect on the political ambitions, engagement and empowerment of women and girls, causing many not to step forward, to withdraw or to self-censor. The discussion was a @CCRInitiative.

Nighat Dad’s Lifestory Illustrated Beautifully in Comic, “Digital Rights and Feminist Futures”

Nighat Dad was featured as the central character, through which the story and origin of Digital Rights as a feminist movement in Pakistan has taken root, and evolved into a revolution for young women, girls and gender minorities around the country. The comic traces the evolution of Pakistan’s feminist digital rights movement, spearheaded by our very own, Nighat Dad.

Covid-19 Updates: Cyber Harassment Helpline

To commemorate 5 years of loyal service to survivors of cyber harassment, DRF created a video outlining the work we have done in these 5 years, along with the number and varying cases we have dealt with over the past half decade. The month was dedicated to a campaign which highlighted the work different members of the Helpline do, along with general insight and information into how we keep our Cyber Harassment Helpline running smoothly.

Watch the video here:





January 11, 2022 - Comments Off on The Minds of the Women Behind “Digital Rights and Feminist Futures” : A Comic

The Minds of the Women Behind “Digital Rights and Feminist Futures” : A Comic

As 2021 drew to a close, established freelance journalist Zuha Siddiqui and talented Illustrator, Aziza launched a project they had been working on for what has now been over 2 years in the making.

The two have worked together tirelessly to release the original comic “Digital Rights and Feminist Futures”, which looks at the life story and struggles of Digital Rights Activist, Lawyer and CEO of Digital Rights Foundation, Nighat Dad.

The comic is a visual and imaginative treat, masterfully telling the story of the humble originals and challenging beginnings of Nighat’s family. Even though viewers and sceptics may believe they know the basics of Nighat’s life history; an ambitious young woman who set out to achieve more and dreamt the dream of a feminist movement rooted in the Digital space, the comic is sure to surprise its readers, whoever they may be.
The comic is imbued with personal anecdotes and instances that were monumental in shaping the trajectory of Nighat’s life, and it reads like a story with a well thought out plot. This is because Zuha spent hours speaking to Nighat via Zoom and learned in great detail about her life, her passion for Digital Rights, and the pain-staking journey that has been the inception of Digital Rights Foundation and the subsequent Cyber Harassment Helpline which has been the first of its kind in the region.

*Excerpts of illustrations from the Comic

When speaking to Zuha and Aziza about the comic after its initial release garnered a lot of positive attention and feedback, we learned that Zuha had a meticulous process that allowed for her research and subsequent writing of the comic to be well researched and authentic.

Zuha set out researching all about Digital Rights in Pakistan, the pioneers of feminist movements, and spoke to several resourceful contacts that provided her with useful information. She then got into contact with Nighat (even though for the purpose of her work, she would have preferred meeting her subject in person and immersing herself in Nighat’s world and surroundings).

Once the research was done, and the narrative of the story had been laid out in front of her, Zuha took Aziza on board: an exceptionally talented and creative illustrator who owed all of her success in beautifully illustrating such a crucial story to the creative process that her and Zuha embarked on together.

They created a story board, went through the story in depth, and started bringing it to life visually. Aziza’s imagination and drawing prowess coupled with Zuha’s passion for documenting and telling important stories eventually created the brilliant comic which came to be known as “Digital Rights and Feminist Futures”

When speaking to these talented women about why they chose this particular story to tell, and what motivated them to embark on this project, the answer was simple:

“We wanted to create an archive”

An archive of movements and of stories. Stories of women who are spearheading movements in Pakistan. Women who are increasing awareness about Digital Rights and all that the Digital space has to offer. And women who are doing it with the interest of creating space for other women and gender minorities and setting out a path that others can tread on. Not just in the digital sphere, but well beyond that as well.

As for the person in question, Nighat was blown away by the heartfelt and beautifully captured depiction of her story. Reading the comic which summarizes decades of hard work and struggles to work on a mission she believes in, left her speechless and extremely overwhelmed with appreciation for the efforts made by Zuha and Aziza.

The image above is an illustration of Nighat at a crucial moment in her journey to becoming who she is: holding her newborn son and becoming aware of the limitations and flaws of the legal system that is supposed to uphold our rights.

The comic is an honest, heartfelt, and inspiring true story that humanizes its subject and her difficult journey while becoming one of Pakistan’s household names.

Twitter handles for the creators:



December 11, 2021 - Comments Off on November 2021 Newsletter: DRF Hosts its 8th National Privacy Conference in Islamabad on the 24th of November, 2021.

November 2021 Newsletter: DRF Hosts its 8th National Privacy Conference in Islamabad on the 24th of November, 2021.

Events and Training Sessions

Digital Rights Foundation conducted it’s 8th annual National Data Privacy Conference on Wednesday the 24th of November, 2021 at Marriott Hotel Islamabad. The conference brought together experts from various sectors which included the Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry of IT and Telecommunication, NADRA and other relevant stakeholders.

The event started off with a keynote address from the Executive Director of DRF Nighat Dad, who stated that “the right to privacy is a fundamental right, however what that means in the digital age requires a detailed and nuanced discussion that includes all stakeholders--the state, businesses, civil society, and ordinary citizens.”

The first panel titled, “How Private is the Digital ID in Pakistan” featured Tariq Malik, Chairperson NADRA. Mr. Malik highlighted the importance of a data protection law in Pakistan to ensure standardization of data privacy practices as an important part of the “social contract between citizens and the government”.

Drafting the Data Protection Legislation: Progress and Next Step”’ was the second panel of the day, including Bilal Abassi, Director IT of the Ministry of IT and Technology and Jehan Ara, Founder and CEO of Katalyst Labs. Ms. Jahan Ara highlighted that “a strong personal data protection law needs to apply both to the public and private sector because public bodies hold large amounts of data on citizens.”

The final panel, “Privacy from a Human Rights Perspective”, was split into two parts; the first half with DRF Executive Director Nighat Dad in conversation with Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari. Minister Mazari stated that the “right to privacy is a fundamental human right, but the right needs to be balanced with other competing rights.” She went on to highlight that “privacy is even more important for women, just look at the Noor Muqadam case mainstream media aired footage that caused so much distress for her family. The second half of the panel had Usama Khilji, Director at Bolo Bhi. Mr. Khilji stressed the importance of a strong commission for privacy: “We need a privacy commission that is independent of the proposed privacy commission that is separate from the government that can hold the state and powerful actors accountable.”

The annual Conference is a banner event for the Digital Rights Foundation and this year’s event drew in as substantial and informed an audience and guest panel as ever and was covered extensively by local media.

Workshop for Journalists on Gender Sensitive Reporting

DRF held a workshop with journalists on Gender Sensitive Reporting in Mainstream Media & Digital Journalism on 3rd November. The workshop had journalists from across Pakistan who discussed why gender sensitivity is important in the media and what can be done to make it better.

Digital Well-Being and Safety Fellowship for Women Journalists

DRF held it’s very first Digital Well Being and Safety Fellowship in Lahore with women journalists from across Pakistan at Nishat Hotel. The fellowship was held on the 18th, 19th and 20th November with key modules designed specifically for journalists to train them on digital safety, legal recourse in the country and journalists mental health and well being. The training was attended by 21 women journalists from across the country.

Training Session at Learning Alliance School

DRF conducted two sessions at Learning Alliance this month. The first was a panel discussion on ‘Navigating Online Spaces’ geared towards O and A Level students, where Hyra Basit represented DRF on the panel along with Wafa Asher, ex-President of FemSoc at LUMS. The second session was held on ‘Safe Online Surfing’ with students from Grades 6-8 and was more interactive.

Panels and Webinars:

Nighat Dad speaks at panel at CWASU

Executive Director Nighat Dad was invited by the Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU) on 5th November to speak at the #JoiningTheDots webinar on cyberspace and new technologies. She was called the 'digital warrior battling the patriarchy' at the event.

Paris Peace Forum Panel

Shmyla Khan took part in the panel “Prevent and heal: Addressing physical and digital violence against women in times of Covid-19” at the Paris Peace Forum on 12 November. She spoke about the work that the organization is doing, along with Lisa Davis (MADRE - Addressing Violence & Normalizing Equality), Heloise Onumba-Bessonnet (Responsable projet Re-Création et pôle santé, LOBA - Re-Création), Triona Pender (ActionAid Ireland - Behaviour Change to Address Inequality).

Nighat Dad speaks at Paris Peace Forum panel

Nighat Dad spoke on the virtual  panel titled “Curbing harmful content: Social media for peace” at the Paris Peace Forum on 12th November. She spoke of the need for policy makers to take local contexts into account when regulating social media in different regions.

Nighat Dad speaks about Digital Rights and Digital Citizenship at  Digital Youth Summit 2021

Nighat spoke at KPK’s Digital Youth Summit 2021 on the 13th and 14th of November about Digital Rights and Digital Citizenship, along with  Misinformation, Cyber Harassment and the need for Data Protection Laws which adequately safeguard the privacy of  users online. Our Director for Policy and Research was also a speaker at the KPDYS’21 Summit and spoke about Misinformation in the Digital Age.

Nighat Dad speaks at AJCON21 Panel, “Challenges to Human Dignity: Victim Blaming”

Nighat Dad was invited to AJCON21 on 20th November as a speaker to speak on the panel, “ Challenges to Human Dignity: Victim Blaming” in which she spoke about how provisions in the law have been weaponized to silence vulnerable victims, including human rights defenders and journalists.

Panel at Internet Governance Forum 2021

 Nighat Dad spoke at the panel  “Creating sustainable value and inclusive society -  the role of digital platforms” at #IGF21 in which she discussed the various ways in which collaboration can be used in new governance models that are human-centric and inclusive.

Online Campaigns and Initiatives:

DRF launches Digital 50.50 E-Magazine and Report on Moral Policing

DRF launched new editions of its Digital 50.50 e-magazine and report on the theme of “Moral Policing in Digital Spaces” in Pakistan. DRF conducted research on the issue of moral policing and received stories from various women regarding their experiences with moral policing and its implications. A campaign was launched on social media regarding the various perspectives of women experiencing moral policing which were reflected in their pieces for the Digital 50.50 e-magazine.

DRF Commemorates End Impunity Against Journalists Day with Online Campaign

DRF stood in solidarity for the cause of ending impunity against journalists on November 2nd and launched a campaign on social media sharing stories and reports from women  journalists who have faced threats.

Media Coverage:

Paris Peace Forum Recognition

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline was recognized by the Paris Peace Forum as one of the 80 projects around the word working to end relevant issues of our time. Members from the DRF team also spoke on panels at the Paris Peace Forum.

Appearance on Samaaj show, PTV News

Nighat Dad spoke on PTV News Samaaj show hosted by Muniba Mazari about the impact of social media on  mental health.

PTV News discussion on Illegal Surveillance

On November 26th, Nighat Dad spoke to PTV News about Israeli firm’s Pegasus Software and the lawsuit filed by Apple regarding the state backed surveillance and unlawful use of Apple users information used by the NSO cyber firm group.

Covid-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline

In November, DRF received a total of 264 complaints, with 64% of complaints being registered by women. The trend of women experiencing and reporting a greater number of complaints related to cyber harassment and cyber crime has continued.

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline is open and available Monday to Friday, from 9AM to 5PM. The occurrence of harassment, both online and offline have significantly increased during Covid-19 and our Helpline team is committed to providing victims with the guidance they need to navigate through such difficult situations.

If you or someone you know is being harassed, bullied, or threatened online, please reach out to our Helpline at 0800-39393.

You can even send us a DM on any of our social media platforms. You don't have to suffer in silence!

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 10, 2021 - Comments Off on October Newsletter 2021: Launch of Hamara Internet Website: A Digital Safe Space for Women

October Newsletter 2021: Launch of Hamara Internet Website: A Digital Safe Space for Women

Policy Initiatives and Online Campaigns:

Launch of Hamara Internet Website: A Digital Safe Space for Women

DRF launched the Hamara Internet website on the International Day of the Girl Child. The website aims to make the Internet a safe space that is inclusive of women belonging to all walks of life.  The website showcases stories, vlogs and blogs from women journalists across Pakistan, and delves into topics relating to gender and technology.

To find out more visit our website below:

Campaign on International Day of the Girl Child

DRF conducted a social media campaign on 11th October which marks International Day of the Girl Child. DRF focused on the importance of equal access to technology for girls and women as a crucial factor in ensuring that they can acquire knowledge and information in order to participate in different spheres of life sufficiently.


Stakeholders' Consultation on Exercising Constitutional Freedoms Online in Pakistan

DRF’s legal team participated in the Stakeholders’ Consultation on the topic “Exercising Constitutional Freedoms Online: Prospects and Challenges” on October 9th, 2021. The meeting was organized by the Punjab Bar Council (PBC), Common Laws Company (CLC) and the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA).

The purpose of the consultation was to comprehend the issues and concerns of stakeholders, particularly journalists and human rights defenders in exercising fundamental constitutional freedoms in the online sphere in Pakistan.

Cyber Security Awareness Month

Cyber security awareness month was observed by raising awareness about key Digital Rights issues such as encryption and the importance of a free and accessible internet for all. DRF’s campaigns were geared towards educating followers about the importance of privacy and accessibility of information online while also celebrating the advantages of the Digital Age.

Events and Training Sessions:

DRF members conduct workshop for Students on Cyber Safety at Skill Share Week

DRF was invited to NGO Hamara Mustaqbil’s skill share week to conduct a workshop on Cyber Safety for students of O-Levels, A’-Levels and Matriculation. The workshop was held on 1st October and was geared towards equipping students with the knowledge related to safeguarding their privacy online and operating responsibly in the digital sphere.

Workshop on Cyber Crimes for Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD)

DRF conducted a workshop for female media professionals on cybercrimes and the important provisions present in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (PECA) that were relevant to such crimes.

Session on Understanding Online Safety

DRF conducted an online session on digital safety and security for media professionals on October 13th, 2021. Participants were introduced to potential cyber concerns and were given tips to secure their online presence as well as sensitive data.

Session on digital safety for women at Dastak Shelter Home

DRF conducted a digital safety and awareness session with women at Dastak shelter home on October 20th, appraising them to digital safety practices and practical tips they can use in their daily lives.

Pakistan’s Legal landscape and Media Law

DRF conducted a workshop for media professionals on October 20th based on understanding Pakistan’s legal landscape and the impact it has on their work in both online and offline spaces.

Training Session at Government College for Women, Lahore

DRF conducted an informative session on cyber harassment and privacy online at Government College for Women, Lahore on October 22nd. Nighat Dad spoke to the young women students about the importance of consent and keeping one’s data safe online. The session included discussions about harassment and how power dynamics are involved when an individual is being targeted online.

Network Engagement Program

DRF organized a one-day digital security training workshop for gender minorities in Lahore on 22nd October, 2021. Twenty-three members from the transgender community participated in the workshop and shared their unfiltered experiences regarding cyber harassment with the group. The session highlighted the by-laws and policy initiatives that were present to safeguard the rights of Pakistani citizens. Tips and detailed information relating to securing personal data was shared with the participants.  Using social media as a tool for advocacy and strategic capacity building was also discussed with the group.

Panel on Digital Disruption of Human Rights by Women in Law

DRF’s Director of Legal Affairs participated in a panel discussion on data protection which was hosted by the Women in Law Initiative, Islamabad Chapter in collaboration with the Ananke Girl Summit. A critical discussion was carried out regarding the Personal Data Protection Bill, and the impact this bill would have on the privacy of individuals online.

Media Coverage

Nighat Dad’s accomplishments in Digital Rights recognized by Ted Fellows Program

Our Executive Director was recognized by the prestigious Ted Fellows Program for her work in fighting against cyber harassment targeted at women and gender minorities. The efforts made by DRF to equip women with the resources and knowledge they require in order to take advantage of the internet were highlighted.

Covid-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline

In October, the Cyber Harassment Helpline received a total of 292 complaints, with a majority of complaints being reported by females. These included 11 instances of domestic violence and physical harassment.

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline is open and available Monday to Friday, from 9AM to 5PM. The occurrence of harassment, both online and offline have significantly increased during Covid-19 and our Helpline team is committed to providing victims with the guidance they need to navigate through such difficult situations.

If you or someone you know is being harassed, bullied, or threatened online, please reach out to our Helpline at 0800-39393. You can send us a DM on any of our social media platforms. You don't have to suffer in silence!

Ab Aur Nahin: Since the start of COVID-19, domestic abuse is at an all time high where victims do not have anywhere to go. DRF has relaunched its Ab Aur Nahin initiative which is a confidential legal and counselor support service specifically designed for victims of harassment and abuse. Please contact us if you require assistance, free of charge.

Link can  be found here:

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 7, 2021 - Comments Off on September 2021 Newsletter: Cyber Harassment Helpline receives 576 complaints

September 2021 Newsletter: Cyber Harassment Helpline receives 576 complaints

Policy Initiatives:

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline Statistics, August 2021

The Cyber Harassment Helpline reported receiving 576 complaints in the month of August, with 402 of these complaints being registered by women. A substantial number of complaints (241 in total) were related to varying forms of blackmail as well as the non-consensual use of information by perpetrators online.
These statistics highlight the prevalence of gender-based violence which women face online in Pakistan daily.

Our Helpline is dedicated to assisting victims of cyber harassment by providing support in the form of digital safety guidance, legal aid, and mental health assistance.

You can reach us at 0800-39393, 5 days a week from 9 am to 5 pm.

Submission of comments to Ministry for Personal Data Protection Bill 2021

DRF provided a series of comments and suggestions to the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MoITT) on its Personal Data Protection Bill of 2021, which is the fourth draft of the Bill released since 2018.

The official document by DRF can be found here:

Online Campaigns and Initiatives:

DRF is all set to relaunch its Hamara Internet website


The website will feature insightful contributions from women journalists and writers focused on digital rights, gender and technology. New content such as blogs, vlogs and articles will serve as engaging content for our audiences.

DRF launches surveys  on Virtual Learning and Disinformation during the Covid-19 Pandemic

DRF is conducting research on the effects that Covid-19 has had on learning in schools with a focus on the shift  to virtual learning and the outcome this has had. There is also research being conducted on the role that fake news and disinformation have played in providing information to the public regarding crucial issues such as vaccination.

Events and Training Sessions

Retreat for Women Journalists for Digital Rights in Nathia Gali

DRF hosted a residency retreat for Women Journalists from across Pakistan in Nathia Gali from the 10th - 14th of  September. The retreat involved a number of activities geared towards encouraging journalists to inculcate self-care and well-being practices into their daily lives to be able to manage daily stressors better. These involved reinvigorating yoga sessions along with team building exercises such as campfire stories which really allowed the attendees to unwind and bond with each other. It also served as a wonderful opportunity for the journalists to network and create an avenue  of collectivized support which was accessible and effective.

Nighat Dad spoke on the panel “Does One Size Fit All? Regulating Content in the Digital Age”

Nighat participated as a guest speaker in the webinar centered around challenges that governments face in regulating digital content on the internet. The online event was  hosted by Quaid-i-Azam University in collaboration with BowerGroupAsia, a strategic advisory firm focusing on Asia-Pacific.

Digital Safety Training Session for Women Reporters at the Tribal News Network

Our Digital Safety Trainer Danish held a training session for women reporters organized by TNN on September 20th  in which he provided useful information regarding how one can keep themselves and their data safe while using online platforms.

Consultation Event by Huqooq-e-Pakistan Project

DRF attended a Consultation session on the 21st and 22nd of September at Pearl Continental, Lahore to discuss the vision and priorities of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW). The event was organized by Huqooq-e-Pakistan Project, a joint initiative by the European Union and the Ministry of Human Right in Pakistan. DRF engaged in relevant discussions with the panel and provided recommendations for the NCSW.

“Defending Rights and Challenging Discourse”  Event

Our Executive Director Nighat Dad and Director for Research and Policy, Shmyla Khan attended the Jinnah Institute’s Womansplaining Writer’s Conversation on 27th September, 2021. The panel was hosted by Zahid Rehman, with Rimmel Mohyudin also participating. DRF has contributed towards the Womansplaining book by writing a chapter in it. The book has been edited by Senator Sherry Rehman this year.

You can find the conversation here:

Media Coverage:

Nighat Dad meets with young women journalists from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Nighat Dad, along with Marium Chaudry (founder of The Current) met with a group of young women journalists from KPK through an event organized  by the Tribal News Network (TNN) in collaboration with Thomson Foundation. Nighat spoke to the women about her experience working in Digital Rights and how she had gotten to where she was, including the obstacles she faced along the way. The session proved to be inspirational and insightful for the young women who were attending.

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke on the Samaa TV Morning Show

Nighat spoke to Samaa TV on Friday, 17th September about the importance of digital literacy regarding social media content that is malicious and classifies as defamation according to the law. She also spoke about the need for ethical journalism and for social media organizations to take  more responsibility in filtering out content that thrives on false information discrimination on their platforms.

Blog post on “Digital and Social Transformations in Pakistan During Covid-19”

DRF’s summer intern worked alongside our Research and Policy team to produce a survey to assess the impact of increased digitization across Pakistan due to the pandemic, and the digital and social transformations that have occurred as a result.

Read the blog here:

Covid-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline is open and available Monday to Friday, from 9AM to 5PM. The occurrence of harassment, both online and offline have significantly increased during Covid-19 and our Helpline team is committed to providing victims with the guidance they need to navigate through such difficult situations.

If you or someone you know is being harassed, bullied, or threatened online, please reach out to our Helpline at 0800-39393. You can even send us a DM on any of our social media platforms. You don't have to suffer in silence!

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.

Link can  be found here:

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.

September 29, 2021 - Comments Off on Evaluating Applications Developed by the Pakistani Government

Evaluating Applications Developed by the Pakistani Government

Faizan Ul Haq is currently a Senior at LUMS majoring in History. His interests include tech, philosophy, and social justice

A non-exhaustive database of mobile phone applications developed by the Pakistani government has been compiled by Faizan and can be accessed here.

It has been widely noted that Pakistan’s potential for IT development has grown vastly in the last decade or so. According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s Annual Report for 2019-2020, in the period from 2016 to 2020, Mobile phone data usage in Pakistan has increased from 614 petabytes to 4,498 – an increase of over 700% in just half a decade. In the same time period, the distribution of broadband services has doubled. While numerous reasons can be speculated for leading this change (from the availability of cheaper smartphones from Chinese providers like Q-Mobile and Huawei, to the increasing importance of IT in business development, and the proliferation of mobile internet), it is obvious either way that the digital world in Pakistan now presents a new avenue that can be harnessed for better governance and delivering services.

It makes sense, then, that in late 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the “Digital Pakistan” initiative. In its policy objectives, what stands out is the emphasis towards using digital applications (henceforth referred to as apps) for “e-governance” and in “key socio-economic sectors”. While there have been a few apps released previously to help with the aforementioned, the current government is seems intent on maximizing this newfound potential.

Over a 100 different apps (as of the summer 2021) have been released on the Google Playstore for Android phones and the Apple store for iOS device by both the government, at the provincial, federal and, at times, the district level. Primarily developed by different provincial IT boards, they cover a wide range of functions including education, the regulation of pre-existing government bodies, agriculture, and online ticketing and booking. Some apps are meant only for citizens of a particular locale (such as the City Islamabad app), while others are targeted to people of a specific profession (the Lahore and Sindh High Court apps are targeted towards the legal community). A few apps have also been released to help deal with health and safety emergencies, such as the Baytee app meant to increase women’s safety and a number of apps aimed at helping track and register COVID cases in Pakistan.

However, just publishing apps does not immediately mean that those apps have helped fix the underlying issues, or that they have been effective in their stated objectives. Quite a few of these apps have dubious efficacy, and some appear to not work at all. There are a few clear trends as to which apps have worked and which have not.

A number of apps profess a wide range of features. The “City Islamabad” app promises a lot. With the goal of “bridge(ing) the gap between citizens and government” by removing the need to go to government offices to access public services and departments, the app is supposed to provide quick access to numerous forms and payment services that would otherwise would have only been available therein. In practice, the Playstore review page is full of complaints that not all of the forms actually work. People have pointed out that tokens generated aren’t always registered by relevant financial departments. Certain forms load indefinitely – either they have not been programmed in properly, or the forms just are not available on the app. At the same time though, certain key features of the app still work and function effectively. The part of the app that provides information on Islamabad’s major landmarks and public facilities loads instantly and provides accurate information, while a portion of the userbase reports successful payment of tax related tokens and response upon submitting complaints. It appears that while a wide number of features have been programmed in, not all of them are perfectly useable.

A similar issue exists with what is arguably the government’s flagship application, the Pakistan Citizen Portal. Most of the reviews posted in September and August 2021 are entirely negative and allude largely to the same issue: a large number of the complaints registered on the app do not actually appear to lead to anything concrete and are instead marked “resolved” without any appropriate action being taken. While this is likely not representative of all users who have used the app, it does imply a degree of miscoordination between the app’s complaint registration mechanism and the departments that are meant to cater to it. If it’s true that complaints being marked as resolved does not actually mean any action has been taken, the widely quoted  statistics on the application’s website need to be taken with a grain of salt, it’s unlikely that each of the 3.1 million . It also speaks to the limitations inherent in e-governance and service delivery through apps – the issues that are already present in government bodies are likely to be reproduced through the functioning of the app. For example, if government bodies continue to treat cases of harassment lightly because of misogynistic attitudes, then the solution lies in a structural reform of said government bodies instead of opening more digital portals to file complaints through.

On the contrary, apps that are targeted towards a specific group of people appear to have had more success. There are two broad types of apps like this: some that have been created solely for the use of people in certain government departments, and others for everyone who works in a particular profession. Apps in the former category include the “Price Magistrate” app – a complaint management app meant specifically for district magistrates. This app has seen less use compared to other apps on this list, and its review section is full of users confused at the lack of a registration option. Of the few reviews that do appear to be from its intended user base, it seems that the app functions well.

An app’s functionality however is not just defined by how well certain features work. Overtime, as more bugs are reported, new devices are released and as operating systems go through several iterations, the publisher needs to provide constant support through updates to ensure their functionality. This is especially important in Pakistan, where Android users are likely to be using a very diverse set of devices given the numerous smartphone companies that exist. Additionally, smartphones in different price ranges have specific limitations – differences in screen resolution, RAM, processing power, and networking features mean that developers need to ensure that their apps can work despite these limitations. If this diversity isn’t catered for, sections of the Pakistani population that can only afford cheap smartphones with weaker specifications are likely to be left out. This means that the demographic which is least likely to be digitally literate will now also face bugs and compatibility issues that make it harder for them to use these applications. Updates are also important to address any security issues on the app, most application updates are issued to fix security bugs that are discovered later on and unanticipated backdoors.

The most prolific publisher of Government apps thus far has been the Punjab IT Board (compared to the other regional boards and other publishers, who barely have half as many apps as the Punjab board between them). On their Android publisher page alone, they have over 70 apps published. Yet, their support for these apps has been sporadic. More than half of these have not been updated even once in 2021. While at best, this might lead to most of these apps functioning albeit with bugs, quite a few of them have been rendered completely unusable as a result. A large number of users report that quite a few of these apps no longer have a working system for logging in users owing to an issue in generating and processing an OTP key. Other apps have been rendered completely unusable – the Agri-Smart app has been rendered completely unusable for certain Android users since their devices’ IMEI codes cannot be accessed. These issues have remained unaddressed for months on end.

It is unclear what the status of these apps is – if such glaring issues exist, has support for them been dropped completely? This seems to be the case, because other apps have had the publisher release frequent updates and engage with reviews that have pointed out issues. The fact that these apps remain available for download despite issues with their usability and a lack of developer support is troubling and speaks to a pattern where apps are launched without the necessary infrastructure to conduct follow-ups. This has caused a fair amount of confusion on app stores, as people continue to download said apps and leave negative reviews because of the clear lack of functionality.

If this is demonstrative of a communication gap between app developers and the intended user base, it is not the end of it. Certain apps certainly seem like they are designed to be used by a large user base, but evidently have not been used as such. The Click ECP app meant to facilitate voters during each election cycle and the Covid-19 Tracker app for Lahore both remain with only over a 1000+ downloads on the Playstore, when it is intuitive that their usage numbers should be far in the thousands. The “Equal Access App” meant to help disabled individuals also remains unused as its user base still is unengaged. At best, this is likely to result in certain apps being unused by their target demographic. At worst though, this can open the door to privacy violations.

Upon first use, a lot of apps require permission to access certain information and features of a phone. While this can vary from app to app, the general rule of thumb is that apps tend to only ask for those permissions that are core to an app’s functionality. Instagram, for example, will only ask for permission to use your camera when you open the in-app camera for the first time. However, even this can run awry – the Facebook app has long been under suspicion for secretly recording conversations for advertisement purposes. A number of apps supported by the Pakistan government, however, ask for a lot of permissions right at first launch. The Pehchaan app (currently unavailable on the Playstore as of September 2021) immediately requests permission to access a user’s location on launch. The “Forest Management Information System” (FMIS) app requests not only access to location services, but also to use the phone’s camera, to “modify and delete contents” of media files saved on device or USB storage, and of Wi-Fi connections. Why the app requires any of this is puzzling, especially since there is no use for any of these features immediately after an app has been launched. This runs afoul of the Principle of Data Minimization – the idea that data collectors should only request and use data that is needed for a specific purpose. Ideally, that purpose should be communicated clearly and a privacy policy should be attached in any scenario where private data is needed. Given that there is little communication from the developers of why these permissions are needed in the first place, it’s extremely troubling that many people in Pakistan could agree to these permissions just to launch an app without realizing the extent to which their privacy is invaded. While Google Play store does include a requirement that each app have a privacy policy attached, the Punjab IT Board’s Privacy Policy seems inadequate. The fact that it’s a generic policy means that it does not cater to the way each individual app may request, use, and store user data. By contrast, the City Islamabad App’s privacy policy and the Pakistan Citizens Portal’s privacy policy at least both specify the kind of data that may be collected. The Punjab IT Board’s privacy policy might already be violated by the FMIS collecting the “the minimum amount of information” required by the app. It is clear that the Punjab IT Board’s privacy policy – under which most of the apps released so far fall under – can be comprehensive and applied more rigorously.

Ultimately, the legitimacy of the Digital Pakistan initiative is worth questioning. Despite the massive growth in Pakistan’s access to these digital technologies and the potential therein, the system put in place to actualize it deserves further scrutiny. The reception of apps published by the government needs to move beyond a tokenistic celebration of each app’s release, to an evaluation of their actual benefit and long-term functioning.

September 17, 2021 - Comments Off on June, July and August 2021 Newsletter: DRF launches Digital 50.50 on Online Freedom of Assembly and Association

June, July and August 2021 Newsletter: DRF launches Digital 50.50 on Online Freedom of Assembly and Association

Online Campaigns and Initiatives:

DRF launches Digital 50.50 on Online Freedom of Assembly and Association

DRF launched it's second last edition of Digital 50.50 on August 23. It was focused on online freedom of assembly and association. As the world retreated inside the homes during the Coronavirus lockdown in 2020, protests were still held in both online spaces and the streets across the world. This reminded us of the importance of freedom of assembly and association as fundamental human rights and essential requirements for a functioning democracy. Journalists from both Urdu and English media shared their thoughts and words with us on some interesting aspects around the theme.

Link to magazine:
Some ways you can secure your snapchat

DRF’s cyber harassment helpline has been seeing an increasing number of calls about people having their Snapchat accounts hacked. It's always a good time to remind ourselves of some of the basics of being safe online. We must always be mindful of our digital safety, given how frequent hacks are becoming.

Blame the criminal, not the victim

DRF shared a series of posts highlighting the importance of accountability in the current situation of physical, verbal and emotional attacks on women. The ongoing femicide in the country is quite distressing and in case of help individuals can reach out to the Cyber Harassment Helpline.


Digital 50.50 edition on ‘Loving Yourself in the Era of Trolling’

DRF launched the Digital 50.50 edition, "Loving Yourself In The Era Of Trolling" issue which is packed full of powerful writing from womxn all across Pakistan who have had to deal with immense trolling for simply existing online.

Read the full magazine here:

Cyber Harassment Helpline’s campaign on key digital rights issues


DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline in June shared a series of posts around cyber bullying, harassment, digital safety and infomatic posts around how to file a complaint with the Federal Investigative Agency (FIA).

Policy Initiatives:

Policy Brief on #AttacksWontSilenceUs - One year on

Last year, amid rising digital attacks against women journalists, we issued a statement signed by more than 150 women journalists and activists.

To evaluate where we stand a year later, we've launched a new policy brief. Read here:

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics for July 2021

In July, the Cyber Harassment Helpline received a total of 712 complaints, bringing a 54% increase in cases since June. Due to recent incidents and the spotlight on gender based violence, there has been a surge in awareness and resources being shared for the benefit of the public.

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics for June 2021

According to DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics in the month of June 2021, there was  an almost 40% increase in complaints compared to the previous month of May, 2021. This rise brought to light how much further we all have to go to work towards an equal and safe internet for all.

DRF’s study on Young People and Privacy in Online Spaces

DRF launched a study in June titled, "Young People & Privacy". The study looks at how young Pakistani teens interact with digital spaces and understand the concept of privacy.

You can read the entire study here:




The Network of Women Journalists statement condemning the petition registered in Gujranwala for treason cases against notable Pakistani journalists

DRF’s Network of Women Journalists on Digital Rights released a statement in June condemning the petition registered in Gujranwala for treason cases against notable Pakistani journalists Hamid Mir and Asma Shirazi.

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline statistics for May 2021

For the month of May 2021, our Cyber Harassment Helpline received a total of 336 complaints.

Media Coverage:

Afghan people face an impossible choice over their digital footprint

Nighat Dad penned down the aftermath that the Afghan people face over their digital footprint.

Read the full piece here:

Nighat Dad on 92 News about the digital gender divide

Nighat Dad spoke on Subh Savary Pakistan of 92 News regarding the digital gender divide in the country.

Link to interview:

Nighat Dad spoke on PTV on gender based violence

DRF’s Nighat Dad on 16th August spoke on PTV World on gender based violence and how there is a need for more accountability to make safe spaces for women and gendered minorities.

Link to interview:

Nighat Dad mentioned in Pride of Pakistan

This independence day Nighat Dad was mentioned in the Pride of Pakistan piece by the news.

Read the full piece here:

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke to Dawn News about the domestic violence bill

DRF’s Nighat Dad spoke on Dawn News on the domestic violence bill and why there is a need for such a bill.

Link to interview:

Events and Sessions:

Understanding the Legal Landscape and Media Law - 27th August

DRF, in collaboration with Free Press Unlimited conducted the first of its series of training based on media law for journalists on the 27th of August. The training was attended by both Urdu and English media and many journalists expressed interest in joining refreshers of the same. It covered Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and defamation laws among others.

WISE - Women in Struggle for Empowerment Seminar on The Role of Helplines in Countering Gender Based Violence - 25th August

The Cyber Harassment Helpline took part in a seminar organized by WISE on the role of helplines in working to assist in cases of gender based violence. The Helpline team shared the services it provides, how people can report instances of cyber crime to designated law enforcement authorities and what precautionary measures they can take in order to make themselves more secure online.

Workshop for Gender Minorities, Multan - 24th and 25th August:

DRF organized a two-day workshop for Gender minorities in Multan and the session aimed to create awareness among the Transgender community regarding the legal landscape that governs digital platforms, how to secure personal data and to avoid dangerous practices online that may put the Transgender community at risk.

A cyber-harassment awareness session was also conducted among the participants in which they were provided guidance on how to deal with harassment issues online during COVID-19. They were informed about how to reach out to DRF’s helpline if necessary. Helpline brochures and books were distributed amongst the participants along with hand sanitizers and face masks.

Online Training Session - Digital Safety in the Context of Advocacy movements and Human Rights - 19th August

An online training session regarding digital security within the context of advocacy movements and human rights was conducted.

This session focused on human rights defenders, specifically those belonging to minority communities, and how they can navigate through online spaces safely. Zanaya Chaudhry, a transgender activist, discussed the importance of managing online interactions, and the consequences minority communities faced when being drawn into controversial and potentially harmful online discourses. Zanaya shared a touching message with the participants regarding her personal experiences dealing with marginalization along with the challenges she had to face in order to achieve her objectives.

Nighat Dad spoke on panel ‘Why do we need a world where we control the internet?’

On 15th August Nighat Dad took part in a panel titled, ‘Why do we need a world where we control the internet?’ In the session she highlighted that the internet needs to be a safe space where nobody’s digital identity is threatened.

Nighat Dad  session on Violence Against Women: Challenges, Reform and the Pandemic

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in the webinar ‘Violence Against Women: Challenges, Reform and the Pandemic’ on 19th July at SDPI. The session had renowned speakers discussing the ongoing femicide and the need for reform, especially during the pandemic.

DRF conducted an online training on gender sensitive reporting in mainstream and digital media

On 16th July, DRF hosted an online training with journalists from across the country on gender sensitive reporting. The training included components on understanding the changing terminology around gender, examples of biased news reports and guidelines on reporting in a gender sensitive manner. It also focused and how newsrooms can be sensitized towards being more gender-inclusive.

DRF conducted a training session on ensuring online safety for it's network of journalists on 12th July

The workshop was conducted via zoom considering the Covid situation. It was attended by journalists from digital and mainstream media across the country.

Nighat Dad on Unlock the Freedom with Tauseeq Haider

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s web-series ‘Unlock Freedom’ with Tauseeq Haider on 10th July. The session focused on internet freedom and digital rights in the country.

DRF on the launch of ‘Algorithmic Decision-Making in Pakistan: A challenge to Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination’

DRF’s Shmyla Khan took part in the Centre for Human Rights’ report launch on "Algorithmic Decision-Making in Pakistan: A Challenge to Right to Equality & Non-Discrimination” on 9th July 2021.

DRF conducted two sessions on Misinformation and Fake News in times of COVID19

DRF conducted sessions on the 6th and 8th of July with journalists and civil society on Misinformation and Fake News in times of COVID19. The session was conducted with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

Protecting your gatherings online: digitally-mediated assemblies and international law

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in the session ‘Protecting your gatherings online: digitally-mediated assemblies and international law’ at RightsCon on July 7th. In the session our ED highlighted how policies made in the west have a ripple effect across the globe which is why policies should be thorough and fair.

DRF at #BalochistanYoungGirlsSummerCamp2021

DRF’s Nighat Dad held a session with #BalochistanYoungGirlsSummerCamp2021 on 29th June highlighting the importance of privacy online and also the importance of reclaiming online spaces and filing a complaint of online violence.

DRF conducted a webinar on the report launch of ‘Young People and Privacy in Digital Spaces’

DRF conducted a webinar on account of the report launch titled, ‘Young People and Privacy in Digital Spaces’ on 25th June. The team who worked on the report participated in the event and highlighted their findings in the report.

DRF conducted a session on 'bringing feminism to digital and mainstream media' on 18th June in Islamabad

The session was held in collaboration with Free Press Unlimited. It was attended by journalists from Urdu and English media. The topics covered included understanding the terminology of gender, reflecting on why the media is gender insensitive and guidelines to report in a gender sensitive manner.

DRF on Platform Futures session on Mobile Ecosystems: Opportunities and Challenges in the Asia-Pacific region

DRF participated in the session Mobile Ecosystems: Opportunities and Challenges in the Asia-Pacific region on 11th June. Nighat Dad of DRF took part in the discussion around platforms, access, markets, equity and Tiktok.

Listen to the full session here:

RightsCon session on Amplifying the human impact of internet shutdowns - why it matters

Nighat Dad spoke on RightsCon on the session ‘Amplifying the human impact of internet shutdowns- why it matters’ on 11th June. The session highlighted how internet shutdowns have an adverse impact on human lives and how the internet now is a fundamental human right.

DRF at Article 19’s session on how civil society carves out space for change in South & Southeast Asia

DRF participated in RightsCon from 7th till 11th June and took part in Article 19’s session on how civil society carves out space for change in South & Southeast Asia. The session focused on how solidarity is important in a shrinking media environment in South and Southeast Asia.

Gender and Disinformation: Towards a Gender-Based Approach for Researchers, Activists and Allies

DRF, along with EU Disinfo Lab, co-hosted a Community Lab at RightsCon  titled: Gender and disinformation: towards a gender-based approach for researchers, activists, and allies on 10th June. Through an interactive discussion led by six facilitators, they explored the intersections of gender and disinformation in relation to conflict, political participation, activism, gender-based violence.

Asia Pacific Social Hour

DRF participated at RightsCon social hour on 10th June which was a relaxed discussion around the digital rights movement and how art and humor can be used to promote digital rights.

Digital Security: Perspective from the Margins in Asia

DRF’s Shmyla Khan participated in the RightsCon session on ‘Digital Security: Perspective from the Margins in Asia’ on 9th June which was hosted by Body and Data. Shmyla Khan highlighted how security needs to be redefined and broadened in the digital space. There was also a discussion around how there should be a wider debate around mental health and well being.

Gendered disinformation: How should democracies respond to this threat?

DRF’s Shmyla Khan spoke in the session ‘gendered disinformation: How should democracies respond to this threat?’ by Heinrich Böll Stiftung on 9th June. The event focused on how to improve responses to gendered disinformation online and what platforms can do to help.

Details of the session:

Voicing the shutdowns #LetTheNetWork

DRF’s Nighat Dad participated in the RightsCon session ‘Voicing the shutdowns’ on 8th June 2021. In the session a much needed debate around internet shutdowns across the globe and strategies around it took place.

Silencing the silenced? The impact of takedown legislation on civil liberties and victims of human rights abuses

DRF’s Executive Director participated in the RightsCon session ‘Silencing the silenced? The impact of takedown legislation on civil liberties and victims of human rights abuses on 8th June. The session highlighted the impact of takedown laws on civil liberties and human rights abuses across the globe.

COVID-19 Updates:

Cyber Harassment Helpline

DRF’s Cyber Harassment Helpline is open and available Monday to Sunday, from 9AM to 5PM. If you or someone you know is being harassed, bullied, or threatened online, please reach out to our Helpline at 0800-39393. You can even send us a DM on any of our social media platforms. You don't have to suffer in silence!

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.




September 8, 2021 - Comments Off on Digital and Social Transformations in Pakistan During Covid-19

Digital and Social Transformations in Pakistan During Covid-19

Huma was born and bred in Lahore and is currently studying Public Policy at NYU Abu Dhabi with a focus on gender studies and public health.

Introduction and objectives

At the start of the pandemic, the Digital Rights Foundation conducted a survey on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis in Pakistan. This survey was open from March to June 2020. The purpose of the survey was to assess the impact of increased digitisation across the country in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and take stock of the digital and social transformations as part of this process. Some baseline indicators that the survey aimed to measure were:

  • The access and quality of access respondents had to digital technologies, including but not limited to tech devices such as smartphones, laptops and broadband connections,
  • Understanding of online security and privacy among respondents, including concerns surrounding increased surveillance and tracking mechanisms during the pandemic
  • Usage patterns for technological devices and social media, before and during the pandemic,


In a joint statement in March 2020, the Digital Rights Foundation and BoloBhi expressed the digital gap during the COVID-19 pandemic would exacerbate inequalities and social cleavages. According to the statement, “Internet access in Pakistan stands at around 35 percent, with 78 million broadband and 76 million mobile internet (3/4G) connections.”

According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2021, Pakistan fell into the last quartile of index countries, ranking 90 out of a 100; particularly low on indicators pertaining to affordability, from ranking 76 in 2019, just before the pandemic.

Furthermore, the statement also explained that mobile internet (often the most affordable mode of access) has been shut down in parts of Balochistan and ex-FATA due to generalised security reasons. Even for areas that do have access, internet speed varies based on one’s location. For instance, internet speed in Gilgit-Baltistan is significantly slower than internet speed in urban centers of Punjab and Sindh.

Lastly, the statement also expressed concerns that “lower-income families either do not own digital devices or they are shared by the entire family unit; this means that families with more than one member working from home or students with online classes will be forced to make a choice.”

Methodological Limitations

In light of these, certain limitations of the survey results need to be addressed. Firstly, as the survey was disseminated primarily online, through social media channels, messaging apps, and email, basic access to internet and wifi became a prerequisite for respondents. This left out a large majority of the population that have little to no access to the internet.

Secondly, the dissemination methods also reflect a certain cross section of the population who regularly use and access social media channels of their own accord, since this was the primary means of distribution.

Lastly, this survey was conducted in English and therefore respondents were limited to those who could understand and communicate in English particularly.

Demographic Summary

The geographic distribution of the respondents reflects the pattern of accessibility and digital connectivity expressed by the statement. Inhabitants of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Faisalabad formed the majority of the respondents, with 48, 27, 24 and 11 responses from each city respectively. In total, there were 4 responses from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 1 from Balochistan and none from Gilgit Baltistan.

We received a total of 128 responses to the survey. 71 (55%) respondents identified as females, 54 (41.9%) as males, with 1 gender non-binary individual and 2 respondents preferring not to disclose their gender.

53% of the respondents were between 25-34 years old, with those between 18 - 24 years and 35 - 44 years old forming the next biggest age brackets of respondents (20.3% and 19.5%, respectively). The large majority of our respondents were therefore employed on salary, self-employed or students. As shown below, while a diverse range of incomes were reported, most respondents fell in the middle to upper income brackets.

Survey Results: Major Takeaways

Digital Divide

93.8% of the respondents reported having access to a broadband connection. The eight respondents that do not have access to a broadband connection, all reported using 3G or 4G services.

Nearly all respondents reported having access to 3G and 4G services; however the amount that respondents spent on these services varied widely, as shown in the graph below:

Despite the reported distribution of access to broadband connections and 3G/4G services, a large majority of the respondents reported difficulties and obstacles in connectivity.

55.7% of the respondents reported experiencing weak or no broadband connection once a week. 15.6% of the respondents reported experiencing weak connections once a month, while the rest experienced these not very often or not at all.

54% of respondents felt that a lack of internet infrastructure in their area impacted their ability to participate in class or at work negatively during Covid-19; of these 45.2% of the respondents reported inconsistent connectivity as the main reason.

59.8% of the respondents felt that internet speed, in particular, negatively affected their experience. Of these, 34% felt that the internet speed had actually decreased in their area in the previous one month at the time of the survey.

Nearly 80% of the respondents agreed that the internet should be a public utility during a crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic. 9.4% of the participants argued that while it should be subsidized, it shouldn’t be free.

While by number, the majority (38.9%) of respondents reported that issues faced in accessibility, connectivity and quality did not negatively impact their access to job opportunities or education, it is important to note that nearly all respondents from outside of Lahore, Islamabad, Karachi and Faisalabad felt that it did. This points to a geographic disparity in access, connectivity and digitisation. Due to the over representation of respondents from more urbanised and digitalised areas of the country, the results of the survey are somewhat skewed.

A Dawn article published in June, 2021 describes the gendered disparities in access to digital technologies: there is a 38 percent gender gap in mobile phone ownership (the highest in South Asia) and a 49 percent gender gap in internet usage. Our study however did not reflect the same disparities, with respondents of all genders self-reporting similar access to technologies, ownership of gadgets, internet usage, and privacy too. This difference owes itself largely to the demographic, especially class, particularities of this study’s respondents.

Nearly 73% of the respondents started working from home completely or at least partially after the advent of the pandemic, the following transformations were also reported in terms of increasing technological devices and internet usage. While this points towards an increasing digitisation of Pakistan, as more and more online services are utilised for what would previously be performed through non-tech means, much of the spread of digital technology - especially those indicated here - are limited to urban areas. For example: Airlift Express, one of Pakistan’s online delivery startups, delivers its services in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Peshawar. This certainly reflects the demand patterns across the country, but is also reflective of already present geographical cleavages in digitising basic services.

The options for the above two questions were:
Purchase groceries
Pay utility bills
Do banking transactions
Read books
Connect with family and friends
Attend classes

The variance between the increasing usage of online services compared to the disparity in the provision of these services is reflected tremendously in the increasing demand for quality internet in all areas that were essentially not urbanised cities. Particularly, earlier in the year, students, activists and residents demanded better internet connectivity for Gilgit Baltistan, especially with an influx of students looking to attend online classes after returning due to the pandemic. In an article published in The Diplomat, student activists demanded better internet services in the Balochistan province too, a demand that was met with repression and arrests on the part of the authorities.


With the advent of the pandemic, governments globally introduced a range of new policies to control and inhibit the spread of the virus within local populations. Among these were various surveillance methodologies employed to trace contacts of infected individuals as well as control compliance with other policies. Various organisations and human rights monitors have protested against the unregulated use of these extraordinary measures and strategies under the banner of public health measures, arguing that these infringe upon civil rights, especially the right to privacy, and by extension democracy itself. For example, Privacy International argued: “Unprecedented levels of surveillance, data exploitation, and misinformation are being tested across the world.”

In particular, a report dated June 2020 highlights the vulnerabilities of Pakistan’s tracking system executed through a COVID app, it was noted that “the app uses hard-coded credentials, which it sends insecurely, to communicate with the government server, and it downloads the exact coordinates of infected people in order to provide a map of their locations. A second independent test found that the app uses an unencrypted database that can be accessed by either an attacker with physical access to the device or a malicious app with root access.”

The response to these mechanisms was varied in the survey results. 43% of the respondents expressed similar concerns over the government’s increased use of tracking and data collection mechanisms to record patients' health, travel and contact histories, with around 35% arguing that they wanted to see more transparency with the data collection processes. 23.4% of the respondents were comfortable with their data being collected but with the condition of some safeguards being present. Lastly, 31.3% agreed that this data collection was essential and were comfortable with it in its current form.

However, a large majority of respondents (nearly 55%) were not comfortable downloading a contact-tracing application on their phone, compared to the 34% who were. The rest were indifferent. This ratio increased when we asked if they would be comfortable if they government mandated said applications - 64% responded that they wouldn’t, while only 27% responded affirmatively.

All that said, our respondents did report having access to and knowledge of digital safety and security - for example, as shown in the graph below, a significant majority reported using two factor authentication. Similarly, upto 93% reported that some or all of their devices were password protected.

Lack of information, Misinformation and Fake News

According to a report published by the Digital Rights Monitor, “even as the internet use soared across the country during the pandemic, people in the newly merged districts continued to rely on printed brochures and radio to get information about the virus. The delayed information about COVID-19 could have been fatal for those who would have contracted it, and lack of information about it would have promoted its spread as well. Not only were people barred from accessing crucial life-saving information, now their routine access to healthcare was also restricted.”

Furthermore, the ‘Manual on Fake News during COVID-19’ written by Digital Rights Foundation argued that fake news, especially on Whatsapp, was at an all time high since March 2020. The kinds of misinformation included: fake cures to mitigate the spread of the virus and manage illness, misinformation about the vaccine and it’s efficiency and so on.

In a study published in 2020 about Covid-19 related Whatsapp messages, Javed et al. used the following illustration to categorize misinformation about the pandemic. Fake news formed the largest of these, including wrongly identifying people diagnosed positive, the amount of deaths globally, hysteria-inducing news about surveillance systems and data collection.

Fig 1.1: Graph from Javed et al.: %age of WhatsApp texts about Covid-19 related misinformation


As the graph below shows, a large majority of respondents to DRF’s survey felt that fake news has increased during the pandemic.

Furthermore, a large number of respondents felt that Whatsapp contained the most misinformation amongst major social media platforms. 95% of respondents reported that they verify information before sharing it further on social media, especially Whatsapp.

According to these initial survey results, Covid-19 related digital transformations, privacy and state facilitated data collection and the effects of varied access to digital technologies is differently perceived across respondents. While they provide baseline data for further study and research, some important caveats to digital research remain, especially driven by huge disparities in access to the internet and other related devices. Further research may relate to studying disparities relating to gender, income level and so on.