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August 28, 2019 - Comments Off on 66 women’s rights, human rights, digital rights and feminists groups endorse statement on internet blackout in Kashmir

66 women’s rights, human rights, digital rights and feminists groups endorse statement on internet blackout in Kashmir

We, a coalition of 66 women's rights, human rights, digital rights and feminists groups, condemn in the strongest possible terms the blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, movement and peaceful assembly by the Indian government through a blanket network and internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir since the evening of August 4, 2019. We believe that access to communication networks, including the internet, is a fundamental human right and the current media blackout is tantamount to silencing the voices of millions of residents in Jammu and Kashmir.

We recognise that the current situation is not an aberration, it is rather part of a systematic effort by the BJP-led government to silence and exclude dissent from the region: the current internet and network shutdown is part of larger pattern of regular shutdowns in the disputed region; in 2019 alone 51 internet shutdowns have been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir. The right to access communication networks is an important prerequisite to the exercise to other democratic and fundamental rights, the people of Jammu and Kashmir have been systematically denied these rights.

It worries us that the latest shutdown has been expanded to block all communication, landline phones and cable TV in addition to the internet. Since August 4, 2019 there has been a complete media blackout on information inside and outside the conflict-ridden valley, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by India:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

The humanitarian impact of this blackout is palatable as family members have been unable to reach their loved ones inside Jammu and Kashmir. Freedom of movement has also severely restricted as curfew imposed under section 144 to stop movement during the day. These restrictions have thwarted the access basic services such as emergency medical care--the human cost of this blackout is immeasurable. Businesses in the region have suffered irreparable losses, devastating the local economy. 5,000 arrests have been made in a clampdown since the communications blackout started.

This communication blackout has been instrumentalized to remove a provision (Article 370) of the Indian Constitution that directly impacts the autonomy of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We are extremely concerned that the pairing of the blackout with the passage of the constitutional amendment points towards a dangerous and draconian approach to democratic decision-making--the people of region cannot express their opinions regarding the decision and possibly have no way of knowing that the legal status of their home has drastically changed. We believe that communication networks during times of conflict and political turmoil are important to prevent further human rights violations and arbitrary measures. Given the excesses of the Indian army in the past, the lack of information and reporting from the region is extremely concerning.

We also condemn the uneven application of community guidelines and content regulation by social media companies such as Twitter to silence users critiquing the official narrative of the Modi-led Indian government and amplifying the voices of Kashmiris on the ground. According to estimates, more than 200 Twitter accounts have been suspended for posting about Kashmir. Furthermore notices have been sent to Twitter users for allegedly “violating the laws of India”. At a time when voices of people from the region are being systematically excluded, these suspensions and notices amount to gross negligence on the part of social media companies.

The United Nations has termed this communications blackout as “unprecedented”, “disproportionate” and constituting “collective punishment”. David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression, stated: “I can’t recall a situation where there has been a total blackout of not only the two-way, multi-point communication systems that we are familiar with now – anything on the internet, WhatsApp etc – but also the one-direction communications like TV”.

We urge that urgent and strict action be taken by the international community to address the international law violations. We demand that the blanket ban on communication network be lifted with immediate effect. We stand in solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir in their legitimate struggle for the right to determination.

August 28, 2019

Signatories:

Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell (AGHS) 
ASR Resource Centre 
Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation (ABKT) 
Aurat Foundation
Aurat Haq
Aurat March Karachi
Aurat March Lahore
AwazFoundationPakistan: Centre for Development Services 
Baidarie 
Balochistan Media Association
Beaconhouse National University Feminist Community
Bolo Bhi, Pakistan
Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF) 
Center for Artificial Intelligence
Center for Cyber Security Pakistan 
Center for Cyber Security Pakistan 
Centre for Social Justice 
Channan 
Christian Muslim Peace 
Combine FiOS
Courting the Law, Pakistan
Damen Support Programme
DCHD 
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Pakistan
Farmers Development Organization FDO Pakistan
Freedom Network 
Girls at Dhabas
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan 
Human Rights Defenders United for Digital Rights
Institute for Peace and Secular Studies 
Institute of Research, Advocacy and development (IRADA), Pakistan
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan 
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan 
Joint Action Committee 
Khwendo kor
Media Matters for Democracy 
Minorities Rights Watch 
Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights
Omar Asghar Khan Foundation 
Pakistan Press Foundation 
Participatory Welfare Services - PWS
Participatory Welfare Services, Layyah
Peasants women society Pakistan 
Quetta City Live
Shirkat Gah - Women’s Resource Centre 
Social Action Transformation of Humanity (SATH Pakistan)
South Asia Partnership - Pakistan 
SPACE (Sufism for Peace & Co-existence)
Sungi 
Takhleeq Foundation

Tehrik-e-Niswan
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF)
The SAWERA Foundation 

War Against Rape (WAR), Lahore
WISE 
Women Action Forum Hyderabad 
Women Action Forum Islamabad 
Women Action Forum Karachi 
Women Action Forum Lahore 
Women Democratic Front 
Women’s Regional Network
Youth Observatory Pakistan

International Organisations 

Afro Leadership Cameroon
Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)
Freedom Forum Nepal
Internet Sans Frontières
NetBlocks

July 22, 2019 - Comments Off on DRF and PUAN conducted a five-day residency ‘Creating Leaders for a Better Digital Society’ in Lahore

DRF and PUAN conducted a five-day residency ‘Creating Leaders for a Better Digital Society’ in Lahore

To support a safer and healthier digital society in Pakistan, the Pakistan- U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN) in collaboration with Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) held a five-day master class in residence, “Creating Leaders for a Better Digital Society” in Lahore from 17th June till 21st June. This in-depth training program provided 36 alumni of U.S. government exchange programs from across Pakistan with the necessary tools and skills in digital literacy and citizenship to become leaders in creating a better digital society.

U.S. Consul General Colleen Crenwelge, who spoke with the participants on the last day of the workshop stated, “The U.S. government is delighted to support the Digital Rights Foundation’s efforts to inform the public about online rights and responsibilities.”

Developments in digital communications have had profound effects on the world in which we live. Though technological advances have driven economic growth and facilitated global connectivity, these developments come hand in hand with its demerits. Free, instant access to global news on the internet has brought with it the threat of widespread disinformation; the miracles of e-commerce have been accompanied by the scourge of identity theft; and while social media has made it easier for us to maintain global networks of friends, it has also facilitated online harassment and cyberbullying. We have also repeatedly seen the effects of online spaces in our lives offline which shows how integration of the internet with our lives is quite real. The five-day residency engaged the participants in various activities, discussions and group work and also touched upon the importance of online safety and security.

Thanking the U.S Consulate for their support, Nighat Dad said, “We are hopeful that our collective efforts to mainstream digital rights will create leaders amongst PUAN’s alumni who will benefit their communities and play a significant role in making online spaces safe. Digital rights have been excluded from the basic human rights framework until now and through trainings like these we will be able to make people more aware about the evolving online threats like cyber harassment, cyber bullying, fake news and disinformation and hate speech.”

Contact person: 
Seerat Khan 
Advocacy and Outreach Manager 

 

March 29, 2019 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation launches report on Female Journalists in new media: Experiences, challenges and a gendered approach

Digital Rights Foundation launches report on Female Journalists in new media: Experiences, challenges and a gendered approach

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) has launched its report on the gendered, online harassment that female journalists face in the media and how this resonates in their offline spaces in the report titled, ‘Female Journalists in new media: Experiences, challenges and a gendered approach’. The report aims to generate a much needed debate around the problems that women journalists face in the new media and how they often have to take a step back from the media due to their vulnerable position in the field.

The report records the experiences of female journalists in a qualitative manner in order to understand the kind of harassment and intimidation women face in the digital platforms due to their work. It also explains how online violence of female journalists translates into offline violence. The report talks about how there are numerous issues that women face in their field like trivialization of gendered issues by their male counterparts and limited support from media houses and institutions.

Highlighting the findings of the report, DRF’s Executive Director, Nighat Dad, notes that “It is extremely hard for women in the media to move ahead in their careers due to the gendered harassment that they face both in the online and offline spheres. Women are often the subject of criticism in the field and they are usually judged on their looks and clothing as compared to the work they do.” She adds that, “The first step towards trying to eradicate this problem of online harassment of female journalists is acknowledging that due to the emergence and more usage of digital platforms for journalism, women are subjected to gendered harassment online, as opposed to their male counterparts."

According to DRF’s findings most women are excluded from press clubs because of their gender and are usually subjected to criticism by their families and society if they want to move ahead in their careers. The report also mentions the impact of cyber harassment on women in the media and how women usually end up self censoring or leaving the media because of being subjected to criticism by the public.

DRF also has recommendations to the state, media houses, civil society and press clubs in the country and how these spaces need to be more inclusive and adopt an approach to protect women if they are subjected to abuse or harassment online.

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded by Nighat Dad in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.

October 16, 2018 - Comments Off on Press Release: Digital Rights Foundation’s Cyber Harassment Helpline releases it’s bi-annual report

Press Release: Digital Rights Foundation’s Cyber Harassment Helpline releases it’s bi-annual report

15 October, 2018 - Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), a non-profit organization, has released its Cyber Harassment Helpline: Bi Annual Report (December 2016 - May 2018) - a significant launch that marks the ongoing success in the battle against cyber harassment and abuse.

The report is a compilation of data collected by the Helpline which highlights the nature and extent of the problem of online harassment. The report also contains recommendations for public bodies to improve their institutional response to online harassment.

The Cyber Harassment Helpline was launched on December 1, 2016 and it is Pakistan’s first dedicated helpline that addresses issues of online abuse and violence by providing a free, safe, gender-sensitive and confidential service. It provides legal advice, digital security support, psychological counselling and referral network to victims of online harassment and abuse. The toll free number [0800-39393] is available everyday from 9am to 5pm.

“The past 1.5 years have solidified our conviction of working towards a tangible movement that results in a safe and secure online space for both women and men. We pledge to continue to provide victims a safe arena where they can share their experiences and become empowered to have control over their situation and continue to make informed  decisions.” - Nighat Dad

This report celebrates the 1.5 year milestone of the helpline and during this time, the helpline received 1,908 calls from December 1, 2016 till May 30, 2018. The helpline is operational everyday including Saturday and Sunday with an average of 83 calls each month where callers came forward with their stories and complaints.

63% of the calls at the Helpline were by women, whereas 37% of the callers were by men--however several men were calling on behalf of other women. Facebook is the most widely used platform in Pakistan, which is reflected in the fact that 43% of the helpline callers experienced harassment there.


The Helpline has strict privacy and confidentiality policies in place, and only non-personally identifiable information is collected from our callers with informed consent. While 19% of the callers did not want to disclose their location, we were able to identify that most of our callers on the Helpline were from Punjab (54%). The Helpline also received calls from Sindh (16%), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (4%), Balochistan (1%), Azad Kashmir and FATA (1%) and the Federal Capital, Islamabad (6%).

Building on this data, DRF has put forward recommendations for the government and law enforcement agencies to improve the reporting mechanism regarding online violence. The rules of PECA (The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016) drafted by Ministry of Information Technology need to be made public to expand the rights available to the citizens of Pakistan. There is also an urgent need to build the technical and financial capacity of the National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), FIA to deal with the unprecedented complaints more effective and efficiently. The report also makes recommendations to build capacity of FIA to deal with cases in foreign jurisdictions with officers getting specialized training in international laws engaged by the NR3C. Furthermore recommendations include establishing a rapid response cell that is operational 24/7 in addition to the operations of NR3C. DRF also mentioned that at least 33%  of Investigation Officers and Prosecutors should be women and the entire staff of the NR3C should be given training in gender sensitivity.

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded by Nighat Dad in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.


Contact person:
Nighat Dad

Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation
nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

October 03, 2018 - Comments Off on Press Release: DRF at RSF’s launch on groundbreaking global Information and Democracy Commission, 70 years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Press Release: DRF at RSF’s launch on groundbreaking global Information and Democracy Commission, 70 years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Digital Rights Foundation

11 September 2018

Paris: Seventy years after the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris, the Paris-based international NGO, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), announces the formation of a panel of 25 prominent figures with the aim of drafting an International Declaration on Information and Democracy.

Co-chaired by Nobel peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi, and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire, the “Information and Democracy Commission” includes Nobel economics laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, Peruvian novelist and Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa and Nigerian human rights lawyer Hauwa Ibrahim, a recipient of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize.

A panel has been formed with 25 members from 18 countries, which includes Nighat Dad, the founder of Pakistan’s Digital Rights Foundation. Ms. Dad is honoured to be part of this prestigious Committee and will be focusing on digital rights and human rights in online spaces. She will be highlighting the spike in fake news and the pivotal role played by social media companies and governments when dealing with fake news. Ms. Dad notes that, “I hope to represent a South Asian perspective that is both part of a global, multi-stakeholder initiative and speak to the particularities of experience and identities of all. Through this platform I hope to focus on the digital rights discourse across the globe and right the to free speech and expression for all. ”

This initiative’s ultimate goal is an international commitment by governments, private-sector companies and civil society representatives. The panel is envisioned to facilitate a groundbreaking political process which is to be launched at the initiative of the leaders of several democratic countries on the basis of the Declaration, and that this will lead to an “International Pledge on Information and Democracy.”

Letters have already been sent to leaders in all continents of the world, and RSF hopes that they will commit as early as mid-November, when dozens of heads of state and government meet in Paris for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War (11 November), for the Paris Peace Forum (11-13 November) and the Internet Governance Forum (12-14 November).

The Commission is meeting for the first time on the 11th and 12th September 2018 in Paris and has set itself the goal of completing its work within two months. RSF, which is acting as its general secretariat, initiated a discussion several months ago that is intended to contribute to the Commission’s own debates. International consultations with a wide range of stakeholders have also been launched.

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded by Nighat Dad in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.

 

Contact Person

Seerat Khan

Advocacy and Outreach Manager

seerat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

August 16, 2018 - Comments Off on Press Release For Hamara Internet App

Press Release For Hamara Internet App

App

Digital Rights Foundation will be releasing it’s one-of-a-kind app, “Hamara Internet”, on the occasion of our nation’s Independence Day, this  August 14th. The app will be available for downloading on the Google App store at 12 am.

The objece of the app is to provide access to information to all Pakistanis regarding the reporting mechanisms in place in case of cyber harassment. The app provides tips and tidbits for online safety to its users and also provides a directory for relevant personnel and contact information of LEAs and organisations such as the FIA, PTA, PCSW and any other relevant resources available for the public. The purpose that the Digital Rights Foundation envisions for the app is to create awareness regarding cyber harassment and through the app educate individuals regarding the law and the precautionary measures they can opt for in case they encounter cyber harassment.

Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation notes that “this application is a step towards employing technology to address the issue of online harassment by making resources accessible through an easy-to-use app and to make it available in both Urdu and English.” She went on to add, “the tech sector in Pakistan has failed to tackle issues on the internet in an effective and inclusive manner--we hope this app will be the stepping stone for more initiatives.”

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded by Nighat Dad in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.

Contact Person:

Seerat Khan

seerat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

 

July 24, 2018 - Comments Off on Press Release: Campaigning on Social Media beyond ECP’s Deadline

Press Release: Campaigning on Social Media beyond ECP’s Deadline

For Immediate Release

June 24, 2018

Digital Rights Foundation has observed that while political parties discontinued their public meetings and campaigns on electronic and print media at the stroke of midnight on June 24th 2018, social media campaigns of several major political parties still remain active. This raises interesting and troubling questions regarding the ability of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to monitor and regulate social media.

The team at Digital Rights Foundation has observed that that Facebook and Twitter accounts of various parties, including the big three PTI, PML(N) and PPP, have been posting material that qualifies as campaigning on their official social media pages. Additionally, we have also noted that PTI’s Snapchat account (pti.imrankhan) was also active after the deadline of midnight between July 23rd and 24th, 2018. SMS directed at voters of NA131 by PTI were also delivered after the deadline. It has also been observed that one political party was streaming live through its YouTube account at noon on July 24th. Thus we see both internet and telecommunications fuelled campaigns in full swing despite the haul in activities in non-virtual spaces.

The law around elections was consolidated in the form of the Election Act 2017 and is supplemented by the Code of Conduct and notifications issued by the ECP. Section 182 of the Election Act clearly states:

“Prohibition of public meetings during certain period.— No person shall convene, hold or attend any public meeting, or promote or join in any procession, within the area of a constituency or, in the case of the Senate election, a Province, during a period of forty-eight hours ending at midnight following the conclusion of the poll for any election in that constituency or Province.”

Furthermore, the ECP’s Code of Conduct posits:

“There shall be a complete ban on convening, holding or attending any public meeting, or promoting or joining in any procession, within the area of a constituency during a period of forty-eight hours ending at midnight following the conclusion of the poll and as such the election campaign in all respect shall come to an end before the said hours Violation will be treated as an illegal practice."

For the purposes of this observation, DRF has only considered official and verified accounts of mainstream political parties. Posts made after the midnight deadline have been consolidated to reveal that while a majority of the violations have been on part of PTI, all political parties across the spectrum have continued electioneering during the course of June 24th, including but not confined to PML(N), AWP, PPP, Pak Sarzameen Party, JUI and APML. Furthermore, DRF has distinguished between posts that are not propagating for their particular party and social media activity that is geared towards campaigning for votes.

Apart from Facebook and Twitter posts, it was interesting to note that Facebook advertisements in the form of sponsored posts were still active for official pages of PTI, Shehbaz Sharif and AWP. As per our observation, PTI’s ads were still active on Twitter as well throughout July 24th. This means that paid advertisements were reaching social media pages beyond the mandated period by the ECP. It is also unclear whether social media advertisements and monetized posts are accounted for by the ECP within the budgetary caps in place for election campaigns (Rs. 4 million for an NA seat campaign and Rs. 2 million for a PP seat).

We have also noticed a discrepancy between the date/time of posting and the time-stamp on some of these posts, suggesting that these were perhaps scheduled ahead of time by a social media team unaware of the ECP regulations and their implications online.

This clearly indicates that the ECP has neglected to include social media within the ambit of election campaigns, and does not have an effective monitoring cell dedicated to keeping taps on social media websites. With the proliferation of communication technologies and their potential to influence voters, it is a glaring oversight on part of the ECP to exclude social media from its definition of what constitutes an “election campaign”. As online spaces are becoming increasingly important in election campaigns, from the weaponization of voter information to misinformation campaigns through social media the world over. these practices, if left unmonitored, can significantly impact the course of any election.

We would urge the ECP to devise a comprehensive Code of Conduct for the Internet in which issues of caps on social media ad spending, jurisdictional and halqa-level regulation of digital spaces, transparency of online activities, party-mandated online harassment, accessibility and conduct of political social media wings are addressed keeping in mind the manner in which modern electioneering campaigns are governed. The ECP is confronted with complex questions of a legal and technological nature--modern political social media campaigns are fragmented, expansive and complex--but it needs to take them seriously rather than avoiding the question altogether. We are optimistic, given the ECP’s embrace of technology in other aspects of the electoral process, that it will learn from its shortcomings in these elections.


For information and comments:
Shmyla Khan - shmyla@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

July 17, 2018 - Comments Off on Statement: DRF and Bolo Bhi call for digital accessibility during General Elections 2018

Statement: DRF and Bolo Bhi call for digital accessibility during General Elections 2018

July 17, 2018 -- Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi fear the blocking of internet and mobile networks in the run up to and during the General Elections 2018 in Pakistan, and call on the caretaker government of Pakistan to ensure mobile and digital accessibility, protection of freedom of speech, and the right to association as citizens exercise their democratic and civic duties on July 25, 2018.

We, as the citizens of Pakistan, are not new to the idea of total and partial network shutdowns that affect the way people communicate in current technologically advanced times, and unreasonable attempts like internet shutdowns to conceal security lapses go against the constitution of Pakistan.

Internet shutdowns have not proven to contribute substantial benefits towards national security and/or against terrorism. In fact, they promote chaos among people at the receiving end of this violation of their fundamental right to free speech as guaranteed under Article 19, and the right to information under Article 19-A, and have been declared illegal by the Islamabad High Court earlier this year.

Internet has become a primary source of information for the people of Pakistan, and often times we see mainstream media adopting news from online platforms. The ambulatory nature of the mobile-based internet allows for everyone to contribute news for the people, and makes way for misinformation to be rejected through evidence-based reporting. This misinformation has long been furthering chaos and unrest among unaware citizens, one example of which was seen during the social media blackout amid nationwide violent protests from extremist organisations on November 22, 2017 that held Islamabad hostage for days.

A graph of the recent mobile networks shutdown in Lahore on July 13, 2018, developed by NetBlocks by measuring the intent of disruption in the city, depicts internet and telecommunications suspension at a time of crisis when access to information was most vital. Working together, the signatories will continue to observe internet connectivity across Pakistan throughout the election period.

Lahore witnessed internet shutdown amid huge rally as former PM Nawaz Sharif returns and arrested | Courtesy of NetBlocks

Pakistan is a new democracy that is constantly struggling to hold the title despite the influence of other forces and actors. The second transition of democratically elected government despite threats of collapsing democracy is testament to the country’s disposition to the idea of a government for the people, by the people, and of the people. Whereas draconian laws like the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 have already limited people’s right to free expression in online spaces and other distressing attacks on advocates of the said right, it is important that the internet and online spaces remain open and accessible without disproportionate barriers in the name of security.

Law enforcement agencies have never provided sufficient evidence that can establish a link between shutting down communications and increased safety at a gathering or event. Rather, network shutdowns cause further panic as people are unable to communicate and update others in case of a mishap.

We demand that protecting the fundamental rights to speech, assembly, and association as promised under the Constitution of Pakistan be held above anything, and suggest that the caretaker government take reasonable on-ground security measures to ensure safety of citizens accordingly instead of cutting off citizens from each other.


For information and comments, contact:
Usama Khilji, Director, Bolo Bhi: usama@bolobhi.org
Nighat Dad, Executive Director, DRF: nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk
Alp Toker, Director, NetBlocks: alp@netblocks.org

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a non-profit research-based advocacy organisation focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic process, and digital governance. Visit www.digitalrightsfoundation.pk for details.

Bolo Bhi is a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, internet access, digital security and privacy. Visit www.bolobhi.org for details.

The NetBlocks Group is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all. Visit netblocks.org for details.

July 15, 2018 - Comments Off on Statement: DRF condemns the online attacks against Asma Shirazi

Statement: DRF condemns the online attacks against Asma Shirazi

July 15, 2018 -- Digital Rights Foundation and Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights condemn the social media attacks against Asma Shirazi, a seasoned journalist with years of service to the electronic media, and extends its unfettered support to her.

Ms. Shirazi is made victim of online harassment based on a video where she is heard informing former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif of reasons why his previously recorded interview will not be aired, during a telephonic conversation while he is in-flight from Abu Dhabi to Lahore.

Asma Shirazi, a celebrated journalist who doesn’t need any introduction, has contributed far more than expected of any journalist, was performing her journalistic duty being paid for by her media house - Aaj News. She soon found herself receiving unrestricted, unreasonable and uncalled-for hatred directed at her.

This is not the first time a woman journalist has been attacked for doing her job. Previously, Irum Abbasi, Saba Aitzaz and Marvi Sirmed have been attacked viciously, and in all of these instances, the nature of the attacks are personal which often go from body-shaming, character assassination to rape and death threats really quick.

Women have always been a victim of torture and abuse in every setting; and with little to no freedom to express their opinions at their disposal, their right to occupy online spaces has also been affected in attempts to silence them through endless online violence.

We believe that it’s also important to highlight the increase in the gendered nature of online abuse against women journalists as we approach the General Elections 2018 in less than two weeks. These attacks not only affect the unbiased journalism but also promote self-censorship among women journalists who are forced to remain silent in order to avoid cyber harassment. DRF strongly condemns such abuse and harassment aimed at Asma Shirazi in this instance in particular, and other women journalists at large, and reiterates that under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), online violence is a punishable offence and concerned authorities should treat it as such under the rule of law

DRF strongly opines that journalism is a profession and it’s rather essential that the journalists should be guaranteed a safe environment to work in, and their freedom of expression and freedom of press should be protected at all cost - the fundamental right that is protected under the Constitution of Pakistan.


This statement is drafted by DRF’s Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights.

July 13, 2018 - Comments Off on DRF and NetBlocks strongly condemn the blocking of Slate Magazine in Pakistan

DRF and NetBlocks strongly condemn the blocking of Slate Magazine in Pakistan

13 July, 2018 -- The Digital Rights Foundation and NetBlocks strongly condemn the blocking of Slate Magazine (www.slate.com) in Pakistan.

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“This unprecedented attempt at censorship is not just an attack on free press, but also against the fundamental right to free speech and access to information granted under article 19 and 19-A of the constitution of Pakistan to its citizens,” Hija Kamran, Communications Manager, Digital Rights Foundation, said.

“We demand transparency from the government authorities in their actions and urge them to unblock slate.com in Pakistan immediately while notifying its citizens why the online magazine was blocked in the first place”, she adds.

On 12 July, 2018 inaccessibility to the website was first detected by the NetBlocks internet observatory. An Initial investigation conducted by NetBlocks and Digital Rights Foundation determined that the ban was in effect throughout the country. Subsequent data collected through a controlled study, incorporating 480 sets of measurements over 12 hours via vantage points and providers across the country, indicates a targeted and purposeful disruption consistent with internet filtering techniques.

A chart of measurements from the study shows unavailability of the Slate website on Pakistan’s main providers. During the same period, the site remained accessible internationally.

The organisations informed Slate of the blocking, who then said they were unaware of the incident. In response Slate has cooperated with Digital Rights Foundation by sharing visitor statistics that depict an evident drop in traffic from Pakistan during July 2018.

As we share this statement, we are waiting on receiving an official comment from Slate on the incident.

As Pakistan prepares to hold its general elections in less than two weeks, this action by the authorities is alarming and points to the larger crackdown on dissent and free expression in the country.

There has been no official notification from the Pakistani authorities on the blocking of slate.com even though multiple attempts of accessing the website reflect that it was blocked on the orders of Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).

“The blocking of an international independent media outlet is a blatant violation to both internet and press freedom”, Hannah Machlin, Global Advocacy Manager, NetBlocks said.

“The fact that this incident occurred in a democratic country in the run up to their general elections, underlines the importance of digital observation. We will continue to closely monitor Pakistan and the rest of the world in order to uncover and verify censorship attempts,” Machlin, added.

The Internet has become a primary source of communication for people across borders. From delivering news to seeking information on new developments, online media has transformed into an essential part of how people exercise their right to information. At times when mainstream media adopts its news from online platforms, it’s important that these media are kept free and open for all to access, without disruption and discrimination. Attempting to censor and restrict critical and independent voices harms Pakistan’s global outlook. We believe that press freedom has increasingly become dependent on digital freedom, and emphasize that it is crucial to keep both mainstream media and online media open for all.

Pakistan has a rich history of censorship since the advent of modern technology. From columns pulled out from newspapers to news channels forced off-air, a comparatively recent three-year ban on YouTube in the country that was lifted in 2016, and multiple websites being blocked in the name of national security or obscenity to social media blackouts and partial and complete network shutdowns - the country is not alien to the concept of technological disruptions. The crackdown on dissent by various forceful attempts is testament to the violation of constitution and universal treaties that Pakistan has signed to protect freedom of speech and press in the country.


Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research based advocacy NGO focusing on ICT to support human rights, democratic processes, and digital governance.

The NetBlocks Group is a civil society group working at the intersection of digital rights, cyber-security and internet governance. Independent and non-partisan, NetBlocks strives for an open and inclusive digital future for all.