All Posts in Press Releases

December 12, 2019 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation conducts its Sixth National Conference on Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight

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

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) conducted its “Sixth National Conference on Privacy: #PrivacyIsARight” on December 7, 2019 in Islamabad to discuss issues relating to artificial intelligence, and algorithmic decision-making in the context of privacy rights. The event was supported by one of our key partners, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

The keynote address was delivered by former senator Farhatullah Babar. He noted that “the conference was particularly timely given the Prime Minister’s digital Pakistan initiative which currently lacks a perspective on privacy and human rights.” He also said that the University of Balochistan incident demonstrates that the impact of privacy violations is gendered and disproportionately impacts minorities.

The conference featured the Glass Room Exhibit which featured interactive installations such as “The Zuckerberg House”, “The Empire”, “A Data-Day”, “Fake or Real” and “The Real Life of Your Selfie” which were supported by Tactical Tech as part of its global exhibit. This was accompanied by a theatrical performance which dramatised data manipulation of lived experiences and the impact that it has on society. Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of DRF, said that the conference “aimed to contextualise issues of privacy from the perspective of gender, marginalised communities, and interdisciplinary approaches through the use of art and discourse”.

A panel discussion on the topic “The Future of Tech: AI and Algorithms in the Context of the Criminal Justice System & Social Justice” was conducted to tackle the issue of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and algorithmic decision-making from a human rights perspective. The panelists included Dr. Maryam Mustafa, Dr. Muhammad Nadeem, Rahma M Mian and Aleena Alavi. Dr. Maryam Mustafa said that “AI has an intimate relationship with patriarchy and racism. Initial tests of voice and facial recognition software found that women and people of colour found it nearly impossible to use these features as the software could not ‘recognise’ them.” Academic and writer, Rahma Mian, pointed out that “the idea of development should not be more technology; we need to be able to rethink technology and its harmony with development and advancement of society.”

The event also included a vibrant debate on the proposition “This House Believes That (THBT): Sentencing by judges should be delegated to algorithms”. Oves Anwar (RSIL), Mujtaba Hussain (KPITP) and Usama Khilji (BoloBhi) spoke in favour of the motion. A team of Malaika Raza, Aniqa Arshad and Zoya Rehman argued against the proposition. The debaters spoke about the structural problems with the justice system, human bias, reformative justice and biased data sets. Oves Anwer spoke about the inherent biases that humans are socialised into and how technology can be a tool to neutralise structural injustices that manifest themselves in judgments. The opposition team made the argument that technology tends to replicate and exasperate societal exclusions and the use of algorithms in sentencing cannot fix the larger problem of inequality in society. At the end of the debate, the audience voted in favour of the proposition.

For more information log on: https://digitalrightsfoundation.pk/.

#PrivacyisaRight #PrivacyAwarenessWeek

For more information contact:
Zainab Durrani, Project Manager

zainab@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

0324 4538410
Nighat Dad. Executive Director

nighat@digitalrightsfoundation.pk

November 12, 2019 - Comments Off on Eleven organizations from civil society create the Forum on Information & Democracy, a structural response to information disorder

Eleven organizations from civil society create the Forum on Information & Democracy, a structural response to information disorder

Eleven organizations from civil society create the Forum on Information and Democracy, a new international entity tasked to implement the principles of the International Partnership on information & Democracy, an intergovernmental agreement signed by a coalition of 30 States on the margins of the UN General Assembly last September. It is the continuation of the international process launched by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in September 2018.

In the context of the Paris Peace Forum today, eleven organizations unveiled the newly created Forum on Information & Democracy. This new entity will issue recommendations for standards in order to encourage the regulation and self-regulation  of the space of information and communication. The initiative was welcomed by President Emmanuel Macron during his inaugural speech. He first quoted “the Partnership on Information and Democracy, launched by Reporters Without Borders and supported by governments” to illustrate “the importance of these new forms of cooperation”, “a concrete example of innovations that provide different actors to move forward together".

The association will be based in Paris and will implement the principles from the International Partnership on Information & Democracy, an intergovernmental agreement endorsed by a coalition of 30 States on the margins of the UN General Assembly.

The first General Assembly of the Forum on I&D was held yesterday at RSF’s headquarters in Paris. Its eleven founding members are NGOs, think tanks, multistakeholder initiatives and research centers: CIGI (Canada), CIVICUS (South Africa), the Digital Rights Foundation (Pakistan), Free Press Unlimited (Netherlands), the Human Rights Centre at UC Berkeley School of Law, University of California (United States), the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (United Kingdom), OBSERVACOM (Uruguay), the Open Government Partnership, the Peace Research Institute Oslo (Norway), Reporters without Borders/RSF (France) and Research ICT Africa (South Africa).

The Forum’s Board of Directors elected the RSF Secretary general, Christophe Deloire as its President. Nighat Dad (executive director of Digital Rights Foundation) and Leon Willems (director of Free Press Unlimited) were elected as Vice-President and Treasurer.

In accordance with its bylaws, the Forum will evaluate the means, norms and architectures of the global space of information and communication; investigate respect for the principles of the Declaration and Partnership on Information and Democracy by the corporate entities that shape this space (the online platforms); and, above all, issue recommendations for governments, platforms and the media industry on how the norms that govern this space should evolve. It will encourage self-regulatory mechanisms and promote the social function of journalism.

The Forum’s permanent secretariat will set up working groups tasked with formulating recommendations for regulation and self-regulation in order to address new challenges brought up by technological disruptions and for which existing legislation is not adapted.

During the inauguration of the Forum on Information & Democracy,  the President of Latvia Egils Levits, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius, the Chancellor of South Korea’s National Diplomatic Academy, Kim Joon Hyung, and the Council of Europe’s Director of Democratic Governance, Claudia Luciani, recalled the importance of the Partnership. Some founding members,  including the CEO of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Sasha Havlicek, the Executive Director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Henrik Urdal and the Head of the Geneva office of CIVICUS, Susan Wilding explained the importance and the need for this new organization. Christophe Deloire and Shirin Ebadi, the co-chairs of the International Commission on Information and Democracy (see below), and three other members of the Commission, Can Dündar, Hauwa Ibrahim and Nighat Dad, also outlined the overall logic of the initiative and the central place given to civil society.

About the International Initiative on Information and Democracy 

RSF launched this international initiative in September 2018 when it created the International Commission on Information and Democracy consisting of 25 prominent figures of 18 nationalities. This Commission is co-chaired by Christophe Deloire, RSF Secretary-General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

Other members of the Commission include laureates of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, the French jurist Mireille Delmas Marty, Honorary Professor at the Collége de France, journalists Maria Ressa and Can Dündar, and new technology expert Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Klein Centre at Harvard University.

The Commission drafted the International Declaration on Information and Democracy which received the support of twelve Heads of State and Government in November 2018, including Emmanuel Macron (France), Carlos Alvarado (Costa Rica), Bechir Caid Essebsi (Tunisia), Erna Solberg (Norway) and Justin Trudeau (Canada). It also received the support of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, and the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland.

The ensuing Partnership for Information and Democracy was presented at the G7 summit in August 2019, winning the support of G7 members and the leaders of other major democracies also attending the summit.

On the Forum’s founding members

About CIGI

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank whose mission is to build bridges from knowledge to power by conducting world-leading research and influencing policy makers to innovate. CIGI is headquartered in Waterloo, Canada and has a global network of partners and researchers based around the world. Our peer-reviewed, evidence-based research focuses on digital governance issues relating to the global economy, international law and global security. In collaboration with strategic partners and support received from the Government of Canada and founder Jim Balsillie, our research covers some of the most important issues of our time such as artificial intelligence, platform governance and multilateral trade.

Press contact :  

Kristy Smith, ksmith@cigionline.org or +1 519 580 5566

About CIVICUS

With headquarters in South Africa, and hubs in New York and Geneva, CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organizations and individuals dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society for a more just, inclusive and sustainable world.  The alliance works to protect the fundamental civic freedoms that allow us to speak out, organize and take action. We do this by defending civic freedoms and democratic values; strengthening the power of people; and empowering a more accountable, effective and innovative civil society.  We strive to promote excluded voices, especially from the Global South, and have a growing alliance of more than 8000 members in more over 175 countries.

Press contact :

Deborah Walter : +27 11 833 5959  / deborah.walter@civicus.org / media@civicus.org

About the Digital Rights Foundation

The Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a registered research-based advocacy non-governmental organization in Pakistan. Founded 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, surveillance and online violence against women. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on-ground and online.

Press contact :

Haider Kaleem : haider@digitalrightsfoundation.pk  / +92-42-35852180
About Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Free Press Unlimited is a Netherlands-based media development organization that works in more than 30 countries and strives  to ensure that impartial news and information are available to people across the globe, particularly in countries where there is no to little press freedom. By supporting local media professionals and journalists, Free Press Unlimited aims to help people gain access to the information they need to survive and develop.

Press contact :

Marieke Le Poole : lepoole@freepressunlimited.org
About the Human Rights Centre at UC Berkeley School of Law

The Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, conducts research on war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. Using evidence-based methods and innovative technologies, we support efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, protect vulnerable populations, and amplify the voices of survivors. We seek to close research gaps in global understanding related to refugees and immigrants, indigenous people, workers, women, survivors of trafficking and sexual violence, and other targeted populations. Our Investigations Lab trains students how to find and verify photographs, videos, and other social media sources to investigate potential international crimes, monitor hate speech, and counter disinformation for major NGOS, legal entities, international bodies, and media. We are working with the United Nations Office of Human Rights to develop and publish the first international protocol on open source investigations.

Press contact : 

Andrea Lampros : alampros@berkeley.edu
About the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD)

The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, launched in 2006, is now the leading global ‘think and do’ tank dedicated to understanding and innovating real-world responses to the rising tide of polarisation, hate and extremism of all forms. ISD combines anthropological research, expertise in international extremist movements and an advanced digital analysis capability that tracks hate, disinformation and extremism online, with policy advisory support and training to governments and cities around the world. ISD also works to empower youth and community influencers internationally through its education, technology and communications programmes, including a range of initiatives run in partnership with MIT, Google, Microsoft and Facebook. At the same time ISD is working with a number of governments to design and mount digital policy and regulatory solutions to the algorithmic amplification of polarisation and extremism online.

Press contact :

Evie Penington : pa@isdglobal.org
About OBSERVACOM

OBSERVACOM (Latin American Observatory for Regulation, Media and Convergence) is a nonprofit, professional and independent regional think tank, specialized in regulation and public policy related to media, telecommunications, Internet and freedom of expression. We approach these issues from a rights perspective and prioritize aspects related to access, diversity and pluralism. OBSERVACOM is composed of experts and researchers committed to the protection and promotion of democracy, cultural diversity, human rights and freedom of expression in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Press contacts :

Bruce Girard : bgirard@comunica.org

João Brant : joaocbrant@gmail.com

About the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

In 2011, government leaders and civil society advocates came together to create a unique partnership—one that combines these powerful forces to promote accountable, responsive and inclusive governance. Seventy-nine countries and a growing number of local governments—representing more than two billion people—along with thousands of civil society organizations are members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

Press contact : 

Jose Perez Escotto  : jose.perez@opengovpartnership.org
About PRIO

The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) conducts research on the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups and people. Founded in 1959, PRIO is an independent research institution committed to academic excellence and known for its effective synergy of basic and policy-relevant research. PRIO further conducts graduate training and is engaged in the promotion of peace through conflict resolution, dialogue and reconciliation, public information and policymaking activities.

Press contacts : 

Agnete Schjønsby : agnete@prio.org

Indigo Trigg-Hauger  : indtri@prio.org
About Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Reporters Without Borders, also known under its French name Reporters sans frontières (RSF), is an international non-governmental organization defending freedom, independence and pluralism of journalism. Recognized as a public utility in France, RSF enjoys consultative status with the UN, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the International Organisation of La Francophonie. Headquartered in Paris, RSF has offices in 14 cities around the world and correspondents in 130 countries.

Press contacts :

Emilie Poirrier / epoirrier@rsf.org / 0033 6 77 92 16 77

Sophie Minodier / sminodier@rsf.org / 0033 6 26 49 38 53
About Research ICT Africa

Research ICT Africa conducts public-interest research on the digital economy and society that responds to national, regional and continental needs. We provide relevant stakeholders with the information and analysis required to develop flexible and adaptive policies and regulation to deal with an increasingly complex and dynamic digital environment. Our network contributes to the gathering and analysis of data and indicators to establish a repository of knowledge for furthering research and digital governance.

Press contact :

Oarabile Mudongo : omudongo@researchictafrica.net

November 05, 2019 - Comments Off on Pakistan ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House in the 2019 Freedom on the Net Report for eight years in a row

Pakistan ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House in the 2019 Freedom on the Net Report for eight years in a row

Freedom House released its Freedom on the Net (FoTN) report for the year 2019, titled “The Crisis of Social Media” to reflect the plethora of issues emerging on social media. The report finds an overall decline in global internet freedom for the ninth consecutive year in 2019. It is noted that while “social media at times served as a level playing field for civic discussion, they are now tilting dangerously toward illiberalism, exposing citizens to an unprecedented crackdown on their fundamental freedoms.” The report focuses on developments that occurred between June 2018 till May 2019.

Pakistan’s ranking on the report remains “Not Free” for the coverage period, with its score decreasing from 27 to 26. Internet freedom declined during this report’s coverage period due to authorities’ increased blocking of political, social, and cultural websites. The general election environment in July 2018 saw connectivity restrictions and increased disinformation. Meanwhile, authorities upped their efforts to silence critical journalists and activists using a range of techniques. Users were again sentenced to death on charges of posting blasphemous content online, although their convictions are under appeal. 

The report for Pakistan was authored by Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and evaluated through the methodology developed by Freedom House. The report methodology assesses 65 countries across the world, based on three broad criteria: obstacles to access; limits on content; and violations of user rights. Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of DRF, stated that “the score this year is the culmination of short-term and regressive policies by successive governments. Years worth of draconian legislation and investment in structures that stymie freedom of expression have led to an environment where the internet in Pakistan is more unsafe and less inclusive.”

Key developments during the coverage period include:
  • Authorities shut down mobile and internet service during protests and in the lead-up to the July 2018 general elections, in both populous cities and less developed regions.
  • Over 800,000 websites hosting political, religious, and social content remain blocked. Voice of America’s websites in Urdu and Pashto were temporary inaccessible during the coverage period, as was the website of the leftist Awami Workers Party.
  • Inauthentic content and automated accounts impacted the online landscape. It emerged, for instance, that bots supporting various political parties surfaced ahead of the July 2018 general elections, while Facebook removed content it claimed to be linked to the Pakistani military’s public relations department.
  • In December 2018, two brothers were sentenced to death for blasphemy, for allegedly sharing “disrespectful material” about the prophet Mohammad on their website in 2011.
  • The government increased social media monitoring, announcing a new system to target extremism, hate speech, and anti-national content. The announcement came a month before the Interior Ministry launched an investigation into journalists and activists supporting murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi on social media.
  • Activists and bloggers faced physical attacks and death threats during the coverage period, while several journalists were booked under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.
The full report can be accessed here. Pakistan’s country-specific report is available here: https://www.freedomonthenet.org/country/pakistan/freedom-on-the-net/2019.

#FreedomOnTheNet

October 27, 2019 - Comments Off on Hearing at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights regarding Privacy and Harassment

Hearing at the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights regarding Privacy and Harassment

On 25 October 2019, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), along with members of civil society and student activists, got a chance to brief the Senate Standing Committee on Human Rights’ session on the issue of the University of Balochistan in light of privacy, surveillance of campuses and harassment in educational institutes. Along with the acting Vice-Chancellor of the University, student representatives were given a chance to put forward their demands. The Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Khawar Mumtaz, academic & activist Arfana Mallah and Shmyla Khan from DRF gave their recommendations to the Committee.

The facts presented in front of the Committee stated that 92 surveillance cameras had been installed by the university, however, in light of an investigation ordered by the Balochistan High Court, a total of eight unauthorized cameras were found. These cameras were used to record footage of students without their consent and resulted in blackmailing of students at the hands of the administration. The Senators expressed shock and called for accountability of the senior administration of the university, particularly the VC Dr. Iqbal Javed who stepped down after the incident gained national prominence. It was also revealed the University has no harassment committee as per the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act and the HEC’s Policy Guidelines against Sexual Harassment in Institutions of Higher Learning.

The two student representatives from Quetta highlighted that campuses in Balochistan are highly militarized and controlled spaces. There exists an atmosphere of fear that allows for incidents such as these to remain unreported for years. They demanded that there should be accountability for all involved, to prevent scapegoating of a few individuals instead of addressing the systemic information. They demanded that there should be a ban all arms and ammunition inside university campuses and surveillance cameras should be restricted to the outer gates of campuses. They also stated that a committee for harassment should be set up immediately and given adequate independence and powers. According to the Balochistan Ombudsperson on Workplace Harassment, only one university in the province has a harassment committee in place. The students asked that the ban on student unions should be lifted to allow for organizing on campuses.

Arfana Mallah stated that this issue not confined to one campus or part of the country. There is dearth of women in places of higher education, with women constituting only 20% of the student population and faculty in universities. She demanded that gender audits of educational institutes should be conducted and gender parity should be taken into account when university rankings are conducted. Arfana explained that the CCTV cameras installed under the 2007 HEC directive has resulted in moral policing of students as the camera ends up replicating a patriarchal gaze.

Shmyla from DRF pointed out the need for the protection of the Constitutional right to privacy through a comprehensive personal data protection legislation that shifts the balance of power between the user and data controllers. DRF recommended that cameras from campuses should be removed until HEC develops strong regulation and SOPs for cameras and the data collected. In order to ensure that campuses become critical spaces, it is important to strengthen harassment committees and to closely monitor their progress.

Several senators expressed shock at the state of affairs at universities. Senator Ayesha Raza termed the actions of the university admin as criminal negligence. She also iterated the need for gender parity on committees tasked with addressing harassment. Senator Saif noted that consent-based surveillance should be implemented and stressed the importance of regulation of citizen’s data collected by both private and public bodies.

The Chairperson of the Committee, Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, decided that a two-pronged approach will be tacked in address the matter. Firstly, in the short term, the Committee will closely monitor the investigation of the incident and the next meeting of the Committee will be held inside the University of Balochistan campus. He also noted that the deployment of security forces at campuses should be reviewed across the country. In the long term approach, HEC will be directed to develop a policy framework to ensure fundamental rights at educational institutions. He recommended that gender rankings be made part of annual rankings issued by the HEC. The Chairperson echoed the demand for restoration of student unions. He also highlighted the urgent need for a data protection law in Pakistan. Senator Khokhar promised that the committee will continue to monitor the FIA proceedings into the privacy violations at the University of Balochistan.

We commend the committee for taking up the issue and framing it as an issue of privacy violations and harassment of female bodies. We hope that they will continue to follow up on these promises. 

October 17, 2019 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation expresses solidarity with students of University of Balochistan

Digital Rights Foundation expresses solidarity with students of University of Balochistan

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is alarmed by the incident of surveillance, blackmailing and harassment of female and male students in the University of Balochistan. We express solidarity with students protesting the incident and demanding accountability. The policing and surveillance of student bodies, particularly women, is condemned in the strongest possible terms and we call for strict action to be taken to ensure the dignity and safety of students on campuses across Pakistan.

Universities should ideally be spaces for critical thinking and freedom of expression, however due to neglect and regressive policies they have become spaces of harassment and repression for students. It is a well known fact that students’ bodies are regularly policed and surveilled by university administrations. Surveillance measures, justified under the pretext of safety to students were exasperated during the war on terror. Recently, CCTV cameras have been installed on campuses under the grab of anti-drug measures. It is unfortunate that the technology employed in the name of protecting students is often used to monitor and harass the very people it professes to protect. These systems of surveillance have become tools to monitor and silence dissent and political speech on campus, seen recently in the temporary expulsion of students from the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, UAF for social media posts criticising the university administration.

Female, including feminised, bodies on campus are often subjected to the objectifying gaze of surveillance technology. Mechanisms and technology introduced under paternalistic logic results in the moral policing of women, restricting their right to gender expression and sexuality. Surveillance in public spaces such as campuses is rarely used to enable the freedoms of women, rather it tends to replicate paternalistic models of surveillance prevalent in private spaces, restricting their autonomy. There have been countless cases of data breaches from university databases in which women’s private information is weaponised to target and harass them. The women at the University of Balochistan know this all too well as they were blackmailed and harassed on the basis of their gender. Their consent was repeatedly violated as secret cameras installed by university administrative staff recorded videos of their activities without their knowledge.

It is imperative that we don’t look at cases of policing on campuses in a vacuum. While patriarchal norms and society inform this policing, the underlying infrastructure is laid out by authoritarian strands within the state and a global capital economy that profits from monitoring and dataveillance. This system is invested in not only creating consumers for capital but also to increasingly silence citizens by relinquishing their civil liberties.

The right to privacy is a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right and an intrinsic part of citizen’s personal liberties. The Constitution of Pakistan enshrines the right to privacy as a fundamental right in Article 14(1) stating that "[t]he dignity of man and, subject to law, the privacy of home, shall be inviolable.” The University of Balochistan case is a gross infringement upon this very fundamental right of students. The incident also highlights the lack of redressal available for ordinary citizens to hold institutions accountable for violations of privacy. The fact that Pakistan does not have a robust personal data protection law means that there is no legal mechanism available to make the constitutional right to privacy justiciable. 

While steps have been taken to investigate the incident, measures and safeguards should be in place to ensure that those responsible are held accountable. Additionally, the committee constituted by the provincial assembly of Balochistan to probe the matter lacks adequate gender representation, as only two members of the committee are women (notices to constitute the committee are attached as Annex A). We urge the government to guarantee the right to privacy of citizens by passing progressive data protection legislation. The draft Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications is a positive step, but the legislation of the Act should be a consultative and inclusive process. We urge that women and gender minorities be placed at the center of any effort to provide protection to citizens. We welcome the announcement by the Chief Minister of Balochistan to constitute anti-harassment special committees in all universities across the province, however meaningful implementation will require regular follow-up and investing resources into the process

Notices obtained from verified Twitter account of member of provincial assembly, Sanaullah Baloch. Mr. Baloch is also a member of the Committee.

September 27, 2019 - Comments Off on Qandeel Baloch case judgement: The crime of Covey

Qandeel Baloch case judgement: The crime of Covey

Honour killing is a collective crime, a crime that unifies the patriarchal: legal apparatuses and structures, society and the family system.

When Qandeel Baloch was murdered in the name of honour by her own brother in 2016, the question of her getting justice felt urgent and immensely important. Qandeel was murdered as a direct result of asserting her sexuality online, the visibility had cost her, her life. In the wake of her death, many women identified with what she represented: a working class Pakistani woman who asserted herself.

After more than three years of the investigation and trial of Qandeel Baloch’s honour killing, the Model Court in Multan sentenced Muhammad Waseem to 25 years of imprisonment under section 311 of the Pakistan Penal Code. The other accused in the case stood acquitted, including her brothers Aslam Shaheen and Muhammad Arif as well as Haqnawaz, Muhammad Mufti Abdul Qavi, Abdul Basit and Muhammad Zafar. The judge endorsed the prosecution’s case for Muhammad Waseem, relying on his judicial confession and DNA evidence.

On the other hand, the other accused, such as Haqnawaz who also confessed to the crime, were acquitted as the judge deemed their confessions as extra-judicial and the recoveries made insufficient corroborative evidence. This speaks to the gaps in the investigation and prosecution, a trend common in cases of gender-based violence. Although Multan has been the beneficiary of support in terms Violence Against Women Center (VAWC) since Qandeel’s murder with the aim of improving investigation and prosecution, there is a serious need to replicate and institutionalise these efforts. It is essential that investigations and prosecution proceedings account for the integral role co-conspirators play in a crime. They might not be the hands that strangle the throat but they definitely are the patriarchal voices that enable those hands.

It is important to note that while Qandeel’s parents attempted to pardon the accused Waseem and Aslam Shaheen through a section 345 CrPC application, the application was declined by the judge. Violence against women’s bodies is a crime against society, a violation felt by all women. The judgment emphasises that this was not a case of blind murder but rather a result of perceived disrepute on the family honour. It is important to acknowledge that violence against women’s bodies is not gender-neutral, but as a result of their gendered bodies and their place within the patriarchal structure--the acknowledgment of her murder as honour crime goes a long way in achieving this. Additionally, Qandeel’s case struck home for us as she reclaimed online spaces to assert her sexuality; in a society where women have limited access to public spaces, the importance of women’s right to pleasure is a political and feminist cause.

We would agitate the state to appeal the acquittals of the accused immediately. Additionally, we petition the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) to pursue the appeal with urgency and care. We placed our faith in state institutions to deliver justice for Qandeel, and the fact that it took three years for her trial to end speaks volumes of the delays and obstacles to justice inherent in our judicial system. We also call for police reform based on investigation of gender-based crimes to improve the process of evidence collection, recovery and prosecution of these crimes so that justice is served fully in future cases. Lastly, the pressure on Qandeel’s parents and their vulnerability in the face of lack of financial support meant that they recanted their support for the prosecution, despite nominating their sons themselves in the initial reporting of the case. More needs to be done to provide support and protection to families of victims who are left behind, to shield them from political and social pressure as well as economic coercion.

Qandeel Baloch case judgement

BRIEF OF FACTS & JUDGEMENT

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