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February 26, 2018 - Comments Off on Demands of the Civil Society: We strongly condemn behaviour of law enforcement authorities in blasphemy case

Demands of the Civil Society: We strongly condemn behaviour of law enforcement authorities in blasphemy case

Civil society strongly condemns behaviour of law enforcement authorities in blasphemy case

  1. We as civil society organisations and concerned citizens condemn in the strongest possible terms the torture and inhumane treatment of Patras Masih and Sajid Masih by the FIA in Lahore. Not only is this a complete violation of the rights of the accused enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, but seriously undermines the credibility of law enforcement agencies to protect citizens.
  2. Blasphemy allegations emerged against the accused, Patras Masih, 17 years old, in Shahdara last week. Announcements were made through mosque loudspeakers identifying the accused, alleging that he shared “blasphemous content” on social media supposedly on January 16, 2018. The Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and other religious parties blocked the Shahdara intersection, incited violence against the family and demanded the arrest of Patras Masih. These threats have endangered the entire Christian community living in Dhir village in Shahdara Town, resulting in some fleeing their homes. An FIR was registered against Patras (FIR No. 174/18) on February 19 at the Shahdara Town Police Station under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code that carries a mandatory death sentence.
  3. The accused and his cousin, Sajid Masih, 24, were in the custody of the FIA at the Punjab Headquarters on February 23, 2018 when the incident in question occurred. In a sensitive and charged case of blasphemy, it was highly irregular and imprudent that, according to Pakistan Today, in addition to the complainants, members of the TLYR and other religious parties were also present at the FIA building at the time of the investigation.
  4. It has come to light that around 6:00 PM, Sajid fell off the fourth floor of the FIA building resulting in serious injuries to his head and body. The FIA initially denied that such an incident had taken place. However, it has come to light that Sajid and Patras were tortured by officers of the cyber crime wing and were coerced into sexually assaulting one another. Sajid, pleaded with them to stop. As a last resort, in order to escape the torture and sexual abuse, he jumped off the fourth floor of the FIA building, where the cyber crime wing is located. Sajid is currently in the hospital recovering from his injuries.
  5. We are seriously concerned regarding the treatment of marginalised groups by law enforcement agencies, specifically religious minorities. The state has a heightened duty to protect persecuted groups. Given the history of the blasphemy law being misused to target minority groups, it is egregious that the FIA completely failed to provide any security to the accused and the family. The law enforcement authorities have not only failed in their duty to protect minorities, but have actively participated in violence against them. The vulnerabilities of the accused were exploited by the law enforcement agency to sexually abuse and torture them. This is in direct violation of Article 14 of the Constitution and Pakistan’s international commitments under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).
  6. As concerned members of civil society and organisations working on digital/human rights, we urge the government to hold the concerned law enforcement officers accountable and take active measures to ensure that Patras Masih and Sajid Masih are given the necessary security given the nature of the accusations made against them.

Demands of the Civil Society:

We demand the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Human Rights, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Senate Committee on Human Rights to,

  1. Immediately WITHDRAW the FIR against Sajid Masih for attempted suicide given the fact that he was attempting to escape from the physical and psychological torture and sexual abuse being inflicted on him by state agencies. Section 325 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) is a regressive and colonial-era law that criminalises suicide, and will soon be repealed by the Criminal Laws Amendment Bill 2017.
  2. Pursuant to the right to a fair trial enshrined under Article 10A of the Constitution, the accused must not be denied any of their civil liberties and rights. Patras and Sajid’s lawyer should be granted immediate ACCESS to the accused. Attempts to withhold their right to counsel will result in a violation of fundamental rights.
  3. Security should be PROVIDED to the accused and their family in order to prevent the real and present threat of violence. Attacks against the accused and their family are common in cases of blasphemy and specifically in this case public threats have been issued, making the possibility of violence reasonably foreseeable. The accused has already been attacked outside court where he appeared for his remand hearing on February 23, 2018. Failure of the state to provide protection will constitute willful negligence on their part.
  4. A full and independent INQUIRY of this incident should be conducted to hold the concerned law enforcement authority and officials accountable. The inquiry should be comprehensive, independent and transparent. The inquiry committee should specifically investigate the FIA officials involved for abuse of power, sexual assault and torture. Any withholding of information should be dealt with seriously.
  5. Keeping Article 14 of the Constitution and Pakistan’s international commitments under the Convention Against Torture (CAT) in consideration, law enforcement agencies should be SEVERELY PENALISED for effectuating torture against the accused. Drastic measures should be in place to ensure that such incidents are not allowed to take place again.
  6. ESTABLISH checks and balances on the abuse of power by law enforcement authorities, particularly for policing powers granted under the National Action Plan, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act and terrorism-related legislation. The government is urged to REVIEW these powers and that the right balance is struck to ensure that there are protections in place for the accused.
  7. An independent Civil Society Steering Committee needs to be SET UP to review and check the performance of the National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), FIA. This committee should include members of civil society, technical experts and parliamentarians. The recommendations and concerns raised by the Committee should be taken into account when reviewing the progress of the FIA under section 53 of PECA and determinations of funding by the Ministry of Interior.
  8. Plans to incorporate provisions relating to blasphemy into the PECA need to be seriously RECONSIDERED given inability of the FIA to provide protection to the accused in such cases. Adding these provisions will effectively allow for the weaponization of blasphemy accusations without offsetting protections for the accused.
  9. Special PROTOCOLS to be issued for law enforcement when processing cases of blasphemy, ensuring the rights and security of the accused. Only specially trained law enforcement officers should be allowed to investigate these cases, with oversight with the Steering Committee.
  10. EFFORTS should be made to ensure that Investigating Officers and officials from minority groups are represented in law enforcement agencies. Quotas for women and minority groups need to be implemented with immediate effect and consistently across offices of the FIA.

Endorsed by:

  1. Alpha Human Rights Care Association
  2. Blackstone School of Law
  3. Bolo Bhi
  4. Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF)
  5. Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS)
  6. Courting The Law
  7. Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD)
  8. Democratic Students’ Alliance (DSA)
  9. Digital Rights Foundation (DRF)
  10. Dove Foundation Pakistan
  11. Ending Violence against Women and Girls Alliance (EVAWG Alliance)
  12. Freedom Network
  13. Girls at Dhabas
  14. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)
  15. Institute for Peace and Secular Studies
  16. Khwendo Kor
  17. IRADA (Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development)
  18. LAAS
  19. Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD)
  20. Minorities Rights Watch
  21. National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
  22. Network of Journalist for Digital Rights
  23. New Emerging Development Organization (NEDO)
  24. NET
  25. Pakhtunkhwa Ullasi Tehrik
  26. Pakistan Feminist Watch
  27. Pattan
  28. Rawadari Tehreek
  29. SATH Pakistan
  30. Shirkatgah
  31. South Asian Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK)
  32. Takkra Qabailee Khwendy
  33. Tangh Development Society
  34. The ASR Resource Centre
  35. The Feminist Collective
  36. The Institute of Women’s Studies, Lahore
  37. The Voice Society
  38. Women United for Digital Rights
  39. Women’s Action Forum, Hyderabad
  40. Women’s Action Forum, Islamabad
  41. Women’s Action Forum, Karachi
  42. Women’s Action Forum, Lahore
  43. Women’s Action Forum, Peshawar
  44. A. H. Nayyar
  45. Adnan Ahmad Chaudhri
  46. Aila Fill, NCJP
  47. Akram Pervez
  48. Aleena Rashid
  49. Ali Kamran
  50. Amber Rahim Shamsi, Journalist
  51. Amna Mir
  52. Anam Lodhi, Journalist
  53. Anbreen Ajaib
  54. Angbeen Atif Mirza, Advocate High Court
  55. Arifa Mazhar
  56. Asad Jamal, Advocate High Court
  57. Asha Bedar
  58. Asher Bhatti
  59. Atiqa Shahid
  60. Ayra Inderyas
  61. Ayesha Khan
  62. Barrister Hassan Niazi, Law Clinic
  63. Bari Sarwar
  64. Bilal Hasan Minto, Advocate Supreme Court
  65. Bushra Gohar
  66. Daniyal Yousaf
  67. Dara Shikoh
  68. Diep Saeeda
  69. Dr. Parveen Ashraf
  70. Dr Riaz Assi
  71. Faheem Zafar
  72. Farida Shaheed
  73. Ferida Sher
  74. Farooq Bashir
  75. Fatima A. Athar
  76. Fatima Anwar, Lawyer
  77. Furhan Hussain
  78. Ghazala Afghan
  79. Haider Zafar
  80. Hamza Irshad
  81. Hiba Akbar, Advocate High Court
  82. Hija Kamran
  83. Hina Vahidy, Peace and Development Organisation
  84. Hira Saleem, Advocate High Court
  85. Hyra Basit
  86. Humaira Sheikh
  87. Iqbal Khattak, Freedom Network
  88. Imaan Zainab Mazari-Hazir
  89. Imran Nafees Siddiqui
  90. James Rehmat, Ecumenical Commission for Human Development
  91. Jannat Ali Kalyar, Barrister
  92. Jannat Fazal
  93. Jalila Haider
  94. Javed Akhtar, Support With Working Solution (SWWS)
  95. Jibran Nasir
  96. Joseph Francis
  97. Kashif Nemat, Advocate High Court
  98. Khadija S. Ubeid, Attorney at Law
  99. Khawar Mumtaz
  100. Kiran Nazish, Journalist
  101. Lala Hassan
  102. Lala Rukh Khan
  103. Luavut Zahid
  104. Lynette Viccaji
  105. Maham Ali
  106. Maliha Zia Lari, Lawyer
  107. Malik Faraz
  108. Maria Chaudhry
  109. Maria Rashid
  110. Marium Khalid, Advocate High Court
  111. Meera Ghani
  112. Mohammad Tehseen
  113. Muhammad Salman Khan, Queeristan
  114. Musirah Farrukh
  115. Nadeem Anthony
  116. Nadia Jamil
  117. Naeem Sadiq
  118. Naeema Malik
  119. Naheed Aziz
  120. Nasir David
  121. Nasir Saeed
  122. Nasreen Kazmi
  123. Naveed Fabian
  124. Nazia Rafique Paul
  125. Nazish Attaullah
  126. Nyla Ahsan
  127. Nighat Dad, digital rights activist/Advocate High Court
  128. Nighat Said Khan
  129. Nijah S. Khan
  130. Noor Ejaz Chaudhry, Lawyer
  131. Noreen Lehri
  132. Nosheen Abbas Kazmi, Journalist
  133. Omer Imran Malik, Associate; Mandviwalla and Zafar; CEO of Tahafuz Project
  134. Pastor Shahid M.Paul Christ Assemblies Church International
  135. Parveen Ashraf Hunzai
  136. Prof. Farkhanda Aurangzeb
  137. Ramis Sohail, Lawyer
  138. Riaz Anjum, Advocate High Court
  139. Roland deSouza
  140. Rubina Saigal
  141. Rukhsana Rashid
  142. Rukhshanda Naz
  143. Rukhshanda Naz, Advocate
  144. Rumana Husain
  145. Saadia Toor
  146. Sabrina Dawood
  147. Saddique John
  148. Sadia Bukhari
  149. Safdar Chaudhry
  150. Safina Javed
  151. Sajida Billy
  152. Sajjad Anwar
  153. Sana Mehmud
  154. Sana Saleem
  155. Sarah Zaman
  156. Sarwar Bari
  157. Seerat Khan
  158. Sehar Tariq
  159. Sehar Naveed
  160. Shaukat Ali
  161. Sheema Kermani, Tehreek e Niswan
  162. Shireen Aslam
  163. Shmyla Khan, Lawyer
  164. Sourayya Frick Azam
  165. Sumera Haq
  166. Sumaira Ashfaq
  167. Syed Ali Mehdi Zaidi, Teacher
  168. Syed Nadeem Ahmad
  169. Tahira Abdullah
  170. Tanzila Mazhar, Journalist
  171. Ujala Akram,
  172. Victoria deSouza
  173. Watson Gill
  174. Yousaf Benjamin
  175. Yousaf Mubark
  176. Zahra Khan, Thrive Pakistan
  177. Zehra Zaidi, Lawyer
  178. Ziauddin Yousafzai, UN Special Advisor on Global Education
  179. Zohra Yousaf
  180. Zoya Rehman, Researcher
  181. Zubeida Mustafa

February 25, 2018 - Comments Off on Statement: Civil society strongly condemns behaviour of LEAs in blasphemy case

Statement: Civil society strongly condemns behaviour of LEAs in blasphemy case

February 26, 2018

Subject: Civil society strongly condemns behaviour of law enforcement authorities in alleged blasphemy case

Civil society organisations and concerned citizens have issued a strong condemnation of the torture, inhumane treatment and sexual abuse of Patras Masih and Sajid Masih by the Cyber Crime Wing, FIA in Lahore. The statement in its entirety can be found here:

The 17 year-old accused, Patras Masih, was accused of allegedly posting blasphemous material on social media. Masih belongs to the Christian community in Shahdara, which has been under siege since the last week by the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) and other religious parties who demanded Masid be punished and incited violence against the family. These threats have endangered the entire Christian community living in Dhir village in Shahdara Town, resulting in some fleeing their homes. An FIR was registered against Patras (FIR No. 174/18) on February 19 at the Shahdara Town Police Station under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

On February 23, 2018,  Patras Masih and his cousin, Sajid Masih, were in the custody of the FIA at the Lahore headquarters when the abuse by law enforcement officials took place. Around 6:00 PM, Sajid fell off the fourth floor of the FIA building resulting in serious injuries to his head and body. It has come to light that Sajid and Patras were tortured by officers of the cyber crime wing and were coerced into sexually assaulting one another. Sajid, pleaded with them to stop. As a last resort, in order to escape the torture and sexual abuse, he jumped off the fourth floor of the FIA building, where the cyber crime wing is located. Sajid is currently in the hospital recovering from his injuries. Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation, pointed out that “as a law enforcement body, it is the duty of the FIA to ensure that there are safeguards in place to ensure that the accused are accorded their rights. It is the bedrock of the criminal justice system and the FIA has failed to do so in this case.”

In a statement signed by more than 150 collectives, civil society organisations and concerned citizens serious concerns were raised regarding the treatment of marginalised groups by law enforcement agencies, specifically religious minorities. The state has a heightened duty to protect persecuted groups. Given the history of the blasphemy law being misused to target minority groups, it is egregious that the FIA completely failed to provide any security to the accused and the family. The law enforcement authorities have not only failed in their duty to protect minorities, but have actively participated in violence against them.

In a series of demands, the government has been called upon to immediately withdraw the FIR for attempted suicide against Sajid and ensure that the accused and their family are provided with effective security. Demands has also been made to conduct an independent inquiry into the matter and penalise any abuse of power by the concerned officials. The statement also calls for effective oversight of law enforcement agencies to hold them accountable and prevent abuse of power. Special protocols and procedures should be in place to deal with cases, such as blasphemy, where the lives of the accused are in danger. Lastly, the statement cautions against the proposed amendments to add blasphemy offences to the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, given the inability of the state to protect those accused under the law.

The statement has been endorsed by organisations such as Huma Rights Commission of Pakistan, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Bolo Bhi, National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), South Asian Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK), Shirkatgah, Minorities Rights Watch as well as collectives including Girls at Dhabas, Women’s Action Forum Chapters of Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Hyderabad and Peshawar, the Feminist Collective, Network of Journalists for Digital Rights and Women United for Digital Rights.

Contact Information
Nighat Dad

February 12, 2018 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation mourns death of feminist icon Asma Jahangir

Digital Rights Foundation mourns death of feminist icon Asma Jahangir

Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt

Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt

We are shocked and saddened by the death of Pakistan’s foremost human rights activist and feminist lawyer Asma Jahangir. Her death is not just a loss for the entire country, but a personal blow for younger activists who have always looked to her as their role model and leader in trying times.

As a woman-led organisation, we are indebted to the path that Asma paved for us through Pakistan’s first women-run law firm, AGHS. As a team consisting of lawyers and young feminists, we stand on Asma’s shoulders and tread the path blazed by her.

For a women’s rights organisation, Asma has built the framework that we operate in, carved the tools that we use to assert our rights and set the standards that we strive for. Asma fought tirelessly for the right of women to chose; her exceptional  contributions are too numerous to recount. She successfully took up Saima Waheed case, which guaranteed the right of adult women to make their own choice in marriage--one of the most important cases in Pakistan’s legal history.

Asma has set the gold standard for principled stances. Her work to uphold the freedom of expression is particularly close to what we stand for and we hope to carry on her legacy. Asma stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our opposition to the draconian cyber crime bill, and having her as an ally lifted our spirits and bolstered our cause. We knew that Asma could always be counted on. We are devastated to have lost our pillar of support.

As a feminist, Asma was unapologetic in the positions she took and was unfazed by the hatred that was directed at her. Being a woman in the public eye, she was not shy of being political and did not allow herself to be weighed down by propaganda and sexist rhetoric directed at her. Asma was firm in her convictions and demonstrated lifelong commitment to the cause of democratic freedoms. She appeared in the history books at the remarkable age of 20 when she appeared in court to represent her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, who was jailed by the military government of Yahya Khan.

Asma has always been a role model for younger feminists; a household name. While Asma, as a lawyer, a human rights activist, and as a person, is irreplaceable, we hope to replicate her resilience and courage as younger feminists stepping into these public forums.

We offer our deepest condolences to Asma’s family, friends, and all those across the world whose lives were touched by Asma’s unfettered resilience and support. It’s an end of an era, but certainly not an end of her legacy.

February 02, 2018 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation Launched Report: “Digital (in)Security of Journalists in Pakistan”

Digital Rights Foundation Launched Report: “Digital (in)Security of Journalists in Pakistan”

Digital Rights Foundation
January 2, 2018


Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) conducted a nationwide survey on the state of security of journalists to shed light on the threats and concerns journalists face online, which runs parallel to the harassment journalists face offline. This report, titled “Digital (In)Security of Journalists in Pakistan” seeks to map and understand the digital risks that journalists face in Pakistan and suggests policy interventions based on the data collected.

66% of the journalists who participated in the survey responded that they had suffered online insecurity. Journalists face issues of digital security in various ways including blackmail, hacking, threats, sexual harassment, data theft, stalking, and attacks through malware or phishing emails. The survey was divided in two parts; the first part inquired journalists’ understanding of digital security. The second part was only addressed to journalists who had experienced online threats or harassment – 68% of total respondents had faced online threats or harassment, hence proving that the majority is exposed  to online insecurity.

The second part of the survey was focused on online harassment and the gendered nature of digital insecurity. 72% of female journalists and 61% of male journalists experienced digital insecurity. When female journalists were asked how the harassment of female and male journalists differs, 71% reported that female journalists are more likely to be attacked on their appearance. Similarly, 68% of them also believe that female journalists are attacked more than male journalists on their personal lives.

In another question, we asked journalists how online insecurity affected their journalism careers. 45.5% respondents said that online insecurity resulted in self-censorship. The survey learnt that 92% of the respondents believe that online harassment in journalism is either “extremely common” or “common”. Only 8% of respondents believe that online harassment is rare or extremely rare.

This report seeks to posit recommendations to lawmakers with reference to the under-consideration Journalist Protection Bill. The first draft of the Bill did not include provisions for the digital security of journalists, thus the aim of this report is to advocate for lawmakers to also consider that journalists be protected online to keep censorship at bay, and to safeguard their mental health, quality of work, physical security of journalists and freedom of the press.

The report also found a dire need for organizations to realize the nature of this threat and for them to conduct trainings for digital security and privacy. Only 24% of the respondents  reported to have received training of digital security and privacy, and a good 76% remain unaware of the possible ways to tackle this issue.  Media organizations fail their employees in another way as 60% of the respondents admitted that their media organization has no policy to report or deal with online threats/harassment. And the 42% of the journalists who filed a complaint were given no follow up.

Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s National Response Centre for Cyber Crime (NR3C) has failed to make a substantial change on two counts. While the FIA set up the NR3C almost a decade ago, they have failed to disseminate information about how digital threats and crimes can be reported to them. Thus, out of all the respondents who face digital insecurity, only 9% reported their cases to the FIA. This number, again, goes to show that the cyber crime wing is hardly being used the way it was meant to be. DRF has submitted recommendations to the NR3C from a victim-based approach that include greater accessibility and complainant-friendly practices.

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. DRF has worked with several journalists through workshops to provide them with digital security tools, established a “Network of Female Journalists for Digital Security” and published a guidebook titled “Digital Security for Journalists”.

Contact person:
Nighat Dad, Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation

November 26, 2017 - Comments Off on Press Release: DRF and NetBlocks find blanket and nation-wide ban on social media in Pakistan and demand it to be lifted immediately

Press Release: DRF and NetBlocks find blanket and nation-wide ban on social media in Pakistan and demand it to be lifted immediately

The NetBlocks internet shutdown observatory project in coordination with the Digital Rights Foundation has collected evidence of nation-wide internet disruptions throughout Pakistan.
On the afternoon of Saturday 25 November, internet users reported disruptions affecting key social media platforms amid protests. The present investigation seeks to provide an early determination of the extent of those restrictions.
Between 16:00 pm and 11:00pm on 25th November 2017, measurements from 121 unique vantage points distributed through 16 ASNs (Autonomous System Numbers) covering major cities and regions in Pakistan were collected, geolocated and anonymised via the NetBlocks web probe measurement network.
Twitter and Facebook are currently restricted with mobile operators Mobilink, Zong, Telenor, Ufone and fixed providers PTCL, Witribe, Zong and Cybernet. Our data indicates that YouTube restrictions are only partially implemented, suggesting that many internet users in Pakistan will still be able to access the video streaming service. Availability of other services has not yet been investigated. A control set of international news websites remained reachable, indicating that the restrictions are targeted to suppress social media coverage of the unrest. The restrictions remain in effect at the time of writing.
A summary of the data is available in CSV format for examination and may be used with credit. This report is provided as an early indicator during an ongoing crisis situation; we expect our investigation to be supported by more detailed technical evaluation.

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Cities specifically found to be affected include Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Islamabad, Quetta and Peshawar while the data suggests the restrictions are in affect nationwide, save for a small number of outliers which appear remain able to access the services.
Digital Rights Foundation demands the suspension of the blanket and nation-wide ban on social media and channels of communication as it does not serve the principles of freedom of expression and proportionality. While the government can take measures to ensure the security of Pakistani citizens, it is important to strike a balance between censorship and security. is a global network observatory that monitors Internet shutdowns, network disruptions, and cybersecurity incidents and their relation to politics and conflict in real-time.
Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is a research and advocacy NGO based in Pakistan that focuses on how ICT can support human rights, democratic processes and digital governance. It works towards a world where all people, and especially women, are able to safely exercise their right of expression.

June 21, 2017 - Comments Off on Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

Statement of Support #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

Digital Rights Foundation and Girls at Dhabas condemn the attack on Asma Jahangir’s associates from AGHS Legal Aid Cell - comprising a female lawyer and two male lawyers - inside a courtroom at the Lahore High Court yesterday morning, i.e. June 20, 2017, by a large group of about 60 to 70 lawyers. This group was present on the court premises to bully Ms. Asma’s team on behalf of Maqsood Buttar, member of Pakistan Bar Council. The presiding judge in the courtroom was Justice Abdul Sami Khan.

Asma and her team have been representing a poor woman who filed a petition to find her missing daughter, 26-year-old Aisha, and grandson, Alyaan. According to the petitioner, Aisha was secretly married to Maqsood Buttar and gave birth to his son. Both Aisha and Alyaan disappeared over 6 months ago. According to Aisha’s mother, after giving birth to Alyaan, Aisha started demanding that Maqsood treat both of them equally, like he would his other family. As a result, Maqsood was repeatedly violent and abusive towards her, up and until her disappearance, along with Alyaan’s.

Yesterday, at the Lahore High Court, 60 to 70 lawyers entered the court premises, disrupting proceedings, chanting insulting slogans and hurling abuses to address Asma Jahangir and her associates (terms such as “gashti” and “agent” were hurled at them). Noor Ejaz Chaudhry, the female associate who was present in court, was told to stay in her “aukaat” and harassed, and when her colleague, Osama Malik, came forward to defend her, he was manhandled and thrashed by some of the lawyers present. His clothes were torn apart and he was dragged out of the courtroom. All this happened in the presence of the judge, and the associates had to be given a backdoor to escape this violent scene.

The legal fraternity in Pakistan is rife with sexism, misogyny and injustice, as can be seen by such occurrences. Incidents like these happen frequently within our courtrooms and law firms. Systematic issues such as the overall lack of female judges in our higher judiciary and hostile courtroom environment makes work extremely difficult, and, at times, dangerous. Our female lawyers do not just fight legal battles; they endure horror stories every single day. The majority of men in the legal fraternity deliberately subject their female colleagues and peers to harassment in their professional lives. Let us not forget that Pakistan is the only South Asian country that has never had a female judge in its apex court, i.e. the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Moreover, as rightly pointed out by Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists, the Pakistan Bar Council has never had a female member in over 40 years of its establishment.

Bar politics and intimidation by lawyers is another problem that has impeded justice and resulted in the harassment of several litigants. The abuse of power and mobilization flies in the face of tall claims of access to justice and litigant-friendly courts. Abuse of power and violence is openly flouted by lawyers who instead of protecting and defending the most vulnerable among us, continue to misuse their power and political clout with impunity. This instance is a clear obstruction of justice and an attempt to wrongly protect lawyers within the fraternity.

There needs to be strong and categorical rulings ordering strict measures against lawyers who routinely harass women. It is extremely important to end impunity of lawyers engaging in such offensive conduct and to ensure that there are repercussions for those who deliberately engage in such behaviour. Furthermore, such measures will ensure that members of the legal fraternity are well aware of the fact that their words and/or actions represent discrimination and/or harassment. Judges need to take strict action to ensure that their courtroom is free of discrimination of any sort, and that nobody present during the hearing is mistreated. There needs to be a larger conversation, at all levels of the court system and legal fraternity, regarding the underrepresentation of women and the harassment that they face.

We stand in solidarity with Aisha’s mother, as well as Asma and her associates, and hope to find answers regarding the disappearance of Aisha and her son Alyaan. Addressing what happened yesterday, and resolving the case in question, is necessary to prevent more unfortunate episodes and miscarriages of justice like these from taking place.

#MisogynyinPkCourts #RecoverAishaAndAlyaan

May 01, 2017 - Comments Off on DRF and Girls@Dhabas Condemn the Cyber Harassment of Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah

DRF and Girls@Dhabas Condemn the Cyber Harassment of Amar Sindhu and Arfana Mallah

Zara zor se Bolo: Azadi!

We, the Digital Rights Foundation and Girls at Dhabas, strongly condemn the cyber-harassment, abuse and intimidation that well-known professors and activists of Pakistan Arfana Mallah and Amar Sindhu have been subjected to over the past four months.

Amar Sindhu is a Sindhi poet and a professor of philosophy at Jamshoro University, while Arfana Mallah is a professor of chemistry at Jamshoro University and the head of its teachers’ union. Both are the leading lights behind the Khanabadosh Writers Cafe in Hyderabad, which has helped to revive cultural life in the city along progressive lines. As longstanding members of the Women Action Forum, both Professor Amar Sindhu and Professor Arfana Mallah have ceaselessly struggled for gender, human rights, and political justice in Sindh and the country at large.

While the paths of feminists are never easy in a deeply patriarchal context, the threats and intimidation tactics against them have amplified in the past few months and have frighteningly evolved into concerted efforts to slander and undermine their individual credibility in online and offline spaces. The abuse that they have suffered has included:

  • threats of acid attack, burning, and other forms of physical violence
  • propaganda that they are “anti-national” and an “agent”
  • character assassination on social media with repeated declarations that they are “randi”, “be ghairat”, “bad kirdar” and “fahash”
  • professional maligning through false claims that they are incompetent teachers and shirking their teaching responsibilities
  • shaming them because of the sari as an occasional choice of dress
  • shaming them as being “over-emotional” and “pseudo”
  • demeaning them through classic, misogynist slurs used against courageous and gutsy feminists: that they are “unhappy, single women” who are “half-crazy”

In light of Mashal Khan’s chilling murder, the present pressure cooker conditions engulfing Amar and Arfana are alarming and deserve immediate attention. The Jamshoro campus represents a volatile situation that has escalated, and isolated the two activists. We are concerned that the intense, targeted social media invective against them is designed to prepare groundwork for actual physical assault at the remotest opportunity.

What is even more horrific and noteworthy about the whole situation is that the slander campaign against them is being led by so-called progressive men, who pride themselves on being intellectuals, academics, human rights defenders, nationalists and secular leftists. Have the harassers been paid to engage in this intimidation campaign, or are they just revealing the misogyny and toxic masculinity that often lies beneath the progressive veneer? Many of these bro-gressives hide behind their progressive facade, while unleashing the worst forms of misogyny against women who speak up. On some occasions, Amar Sindhu has received vitriolic, abusive lashing on social media simply for stating her opinion on current political trends in Sindh.

If a man expresses a political opinion, it is considered his opinion and nothing more. If a woman expresses a political opinion e.g. on PTI as happened to be the case, she faces a social media lynch mob. The intention is to put the woman in her place, silence her political speech, and marginalize her from public discourse. We wish to note here that in 2004, Amar Sindhu and three other women were accused of blasphemy in a case of systematic victimization by the then secretary of the Sindhi Adabi Board. They were cleared eventually through an independent investigation - the first of its kind that was undertaken in Sindh. Shockingly, Amar Sindhu also suffered bullet injuries in 2010 when she was participating in the teachers’ movement against the VC of Sindh University ( For their principled stance, both Dr. Arfana and Dr. Amar were fired along with five other faculty members, but eventually restored after much struggle.

It is when women dare to leave the domestic spaces and roles that patriarchal society has chosen for them, and participate as equal human beings in the social, institutional, and political life of society that the most amount of violence is directed at them. Instead of valuing women’s voices and roles in social and institutional settings, progressive men and regressive men work together - often with the support of other patriarchal women - to ensure that women’s tongues are silenced, their rights denied, they are bullied with written and legal threats, and their professional and social status decimated.

We would thus like to situate Amar and Arfana’s case in the larger context of harassment against women, particularly in academia and activist circles in Pakistan where there has recently been an increased backlash against women who speak up. Whether it is the case of misogynists acting against the Digital Rights Foundation, the case of harassment in public universities like Karachi University, or cases in private universities like LUMS or Habib, the repercussions of dissent and calling out abusive men is unflinching retaliation. This is met with outright support, victim-shaming, apologetic attitude, conditionalities for solidarity, bystander behaviour, avoidance, or silence by an even larger community of men who consider themselves progressive.

 We find such hypocrisy pathetic and deeply disturbing: the men who might praise Faiz and recite “bol” shudder in their shoes when courageous women - after systematic trauma - find the strength to actually speak.

We, in Karachi and Lahore and Islamabad, are inspired by the work and warmth of these two powerful feminists, academics and activists. We stand in firm solidarity with them, we openly declare how much we love and adore them, and how grateful we are for their true patriotism. Against worsening odds, it is the sustained struggle of veteran feminists in reclaiming public, political and institutional spaces that enables us younger feminists to do our work in the world. Together, we strive for and realize a better Pakistan.

Towards this goal, we demand civil society members of Sindh to call out so-called progressive men who engage in maligning, abusing, and victmizing Arfana Mallah and Amar Sindhu, and we urge institutions all over Pakistan to strengthen and safeguard the rights of women.

April 23, 2017 - Comments Off on France’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective

France’s ‘Right to be Forgotten’ Law Challenged by Worldwide NGO Collective

On April 19th, 2017, a worldwide consortium of NGOs filed legal submissions against the "Right to be Forgotten" ruling by France's data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”). "Right to be Forgotten" permits individuals or the government to order data repositories and Internet service providers to destroy any and all parts of an individual's digital trail.

Although justified as necessary for the protection of minors and to allow victims of cyber harassment to remove content posted about them online, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have come under fire for being vaguely defined. In particular, CNIL's ruling crossing its own jurisdiction--applying not only to Google France but the search engine's worldwide database of links and across all its services. In an ironic twist, "Right to be Forgotten" laws have also been invoked to order Google to remove news about Right to be Forgotten laws. This gives a glimpse into how this law facilitates censorship, and why the lack of limits on its applicability put Internet users around the world at risk.

"Right to be Forgotten" deals a severe blow to the Right to Information: you cannot demand information that no longer exists. Besides gagging free speech, it also leaves with the problem of transparency. The Internet plays a vital role in strengthening democracies and increasing public officials' transparency & accountability to their own people; how will this be impacted when politicians and other public officials can demand removal of any content that shows them in a negative light? What is the legal status of political criticism, whistleblowing, and investigative journalism--permitted unless the person under investigation decides otherwise? The democratic process depends upon the ability of people to make an informed choice which is not possible without unfettered access to information.

Another important aspect to consider is the potential impact on legal proceedings in criminal cases: as digital evidence becomes increasingly accepted in court, how will human rights violators be charged when they can erase all evidence of their crimes at the click of a button?

"Right to Be Forgotten" laws as currently defined do not offer sufficient protection against such abuse, and CNIL sets a troubling precedent of applying domestic laws globally. Following this, it is entirely possible for governments to impose censorship across borders. Digital Rights Foundation is committed to fighting for an individual's autonomy over their digital lives, balanced with the best interests of digital communities as a whole. The Internet does not fall under the sole authority of any individual, organization, or country. The ability to shape how and what information appears on it is an immense power. Consolidating it into the hands of a sole entity, particularly without vital safeguards against misuse, is a threat to all.


April 19, 2017

Digital Rights Foundation and 17 other expert non-governmental organisations from across the world have filed legal submissions before France’s highest court, the Council of State (Conseil d’État), raising serious concerns about a ruling of France’s data protection authority, la Commission nationale informatique et libertés (“CNIL”), on the “right to be forgotten".

In 2014, CNIL ordered Google to remove 21 links from the results of an internet search on the name of a French citizen who claims a “right to be forgotten.”  Google initially removed the links from its French search site ( and other European search sites (such as, but CNIL demanded it go further.  Google then blocked the links from results returned to European users, even when using Google’s non-European sites, including CNIL however demands that when it orders content to be “forgotten” from search results, this decision must be given effect worldwide, meaning that the results must be made unavailable to all users internationally, regardless of where they are accessing internet search engines.  CNIL has also imposed a huge fine on Google, of €100,000.

The 18 NGOs who have filed legal submissions with the Council of State have grave concerns about CNIL’s approach and its implications for human rights worldwide.  They all specialise in the defence of human rights, the protection of online freedom of expression, and in increasing access to information technology around the world.  The NGOs, and the many people across the world whose rights they protect, rely on freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas and information online in order to carry out their important work in protecting human rights internationally. CNIL has unilaterally imposed draconian restrictions on free expression upon all organisations and individuals who use the internet around the world, even imposing a “right to be forgotten” upon countries which do not recognise this principle.  The CNIL ruling causes particularly serious damage to human rights protection in the developing world.

The legal submissions were drafted by freedom of expression experts Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Jude Bunting, barristers at Doughty Street Chambers, London, and avocat Thomas Haas, Paris, who acts for the NGOs and filed the submissions with the Council of State.  The NGOs were also assisted by Jennifer Robinson, a pupil barrister with expertise in media law.  A press release from the 18 NGOs is available here.

The importance of the CNIL ruling in 2014, and of the upcoming appeal before the Council of State, has been highlighted by Associate Tenant Nani Jansen Reventlow, an expert on freedom of expression who is currently a Fellow at the Berkman Centre, Harvard University.  She has recently written about the case in the Washington Post: ‘A French court case against Google could threaten global speech rights’ (available here) and for the Council on Foreign Relations Net Politics blog: 'The French court case that threatens to bring the "Right to be Forgotten" everywhere' (available here).

The decision of the Council of State on Google’s appeal is expected later this year.

May 17, 2016 - Comments Off on Senators Commit to Stopping The Cyber Crime Bill

Senators Commit to Stopping The Cyber Crime Bill

L-R: Farieha Aziz (Bolo Bhi), Senator Farhatullah Barbar (PPP), Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP), Nighat Dad (Digital Rights Foundation)

L-R: Farieha Aziz (Bolo Bhi), Senator Farhatullah Babar (PPP), Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP), Nighat Dad (Digital Rights Foundation)

ISLAMABAD: Digital Rights Foundation and Bolo Bhi held a consultation today on the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill 2015, on the day that it was set to be discussed by the Pakistani Senate, in Islamabad.

Legislation that protects citizens from cybercrime and terrorism is needed more than ever, provided that a fair and progressive balance is struck between security and liberty. The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill does not meet that balance - rather than protect the rights of Pakistani citizens as its authors and supporters claim, its passage will in effect criminalise freedom of expression, and put the privacy of Pakistani citizens at risk.

The aim of the consultation was to provide Senators, parliamentarians, members of civil society organisations and the media with the context of the process behind the PECB, and to discuss the problematic provisions and amendments that have been suggested in the most recent versions. Senators and Members of the National Assembly gave their thoughts on the process, and expressed their concerns and opinions on how the Senate would treat the PECB when it would be debated in the Senate. Senators Farhatullah Babar (Khyber Pakhtunwa-PPP), Shahi Syed (KP-ANP), Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Information, and Rubina Khalid (KP-PPP), also a member of the Senate Standing Committee on IT, participated in the discussions on the PECB, as did other lawmakers.

Senator Farhatullah Babar reiterated that the PECB should be subject to a true public hearing, to allow for experts in IT and law to discuss and examine the Bill. Senator Babar also stressed that proper public oversight is necessary, as is a strong balance between security and civil liberties.

L-R: Senator Rubina Khalid (PPP), member of the Senate Standing Committee on IT; Senator Shahi Syed (ANP), Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on IT

L-R: Senator Rubina Khalid (PPP), member of the Senate Standing Committee on IT; Senator Shahi Syed (ANP), Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on IT

Senator Rubina Khalid expressed the concern that the language of the PECB as it currently exists would be used for not just political victimisation, but religious victimisation. Senator Khalid also recounted how the PML-N government had taken advantage of the National Assembly walkout by the PPP in order to push through the PECB. Senators Khalid and Babar also stressed that the PPP has a clear stance that they will not pass the Bill in its current form, and that the Bill was in such a state that it did not deserve to be amended, but to be rebuilt from the ground up, with proper input from multi-stakeholders.

Senator Shahi Syed said that the Senate would not pass the PECB in its current form, and that a public hearing on the Bill would be organised, to allow the public to take part in the process.

MNA Syed Ali Raza Abidi (MQM)

MNA Syed Ali Raza Abidi (MQM)

Raza Ali Abdi (MQM) echoed these sentiments, saying that all efforts to push for change in the National Assembly by MQM have been exhausted, and now the responsibility lies with the Senate to scrap the PECB and start over.

All lawmakers present at the consultation agreed that rather than one faulty bill like the PECB, separate coherent and thought-out bills are required that focus on cybersecurity, cybercrime and cyberterrorism independently. It was also agreed upon that the development and implementation of strong privacy protection mechanisms – to protect Pakistani citizens, their privacy and freedom of expression – was urgently required. Iqbal Khattak, a journalist and member of Reporters San Frontieres (Reporters With Borders) echoed this statement, criticising the current lack of legal protections of legal protections regarding personal data, if said data is handed over to the authorities for any reason.

Senator Farhatullah Barbar reading the latest legal analysis of the PECB, prepared by DRF, Privacy International and Article 19 DRF

Senator Farhatullah Babar reading the latest legal analysis of the PECB, prepared by DRF, Privacy International and Article 19 DRF

Saroop Ijaz of Human Rights Watch agreed, making the important point that to date the PECB has been framed in the context of security – when we look at the Bill, he said, its failings regarding privacy and human rights must be flagged and urgently discussed.

Participants agreed that while comprehensive and well-researched cybercrime legislation is required, the PECB is not that legislation, not as it currently exists. The Bill needs to be redrafted from scratch, subject to a public hearing, and then legislation that truly reflects the concerns and input of multiple civil society stakeholders can be crafted that protects the citizens of Pakistan, but not at the cost of their privacy and freedom of expression. Digital Rights Foundation hopes that the Senate fulfils the commitments that they had made today, to ensure that any future cyber crime legislation reflects these concerns, and will working with Senators to ensure that this is the case.


February 04, 2016 - Comments Off on ‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

‘The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies’

Public bodies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab are negligent in complying with the provincial Right to Information laws.

Lahore, February 4th, 2016: Digital Rights Foundation and the Coalition of Right to Information today released their 4th report “The State of Proactive Disclosure of Information in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Public Bodies” which analyses the official websites of public bodies from the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from July 2015 to December 2015 in order to evaluate their compliance with Right to Information laws and provide constructive feedback to support these public bodies in increasing pre-emptive sharing of information with the public.

This report is the third in a series aimed at assessing the proactive disclosure of information by public bodies. It is a joint-effort initiated by the Coalition of Right to Information (CRTI) and Digital Rights Foundation, with a broader aim to measure how public bodies have been using the web. It is crucial for government bodies to use their web presence effectively and responsibly in order to promote good governance and reduce corruption. This research used the RTI laws of both provinces – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa - to evaluate the extent to which the laws are being followed.

The report found that while there have been small improvements in how these websites provide information, there has been a general reluctance in complying with laws that pertain specifically to

  • sharing the categories of information held by public bodies
  • a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body
  • information about particulars of the recipients of concessions, permits or authorizations granted by the public bodies

“It is important for the public to know what information is being held by each public body,” said Nighat Dad, Executive Director of Digital Rights Foundation. “With the exception of the KPK RTI Commission, none of the websites provide a clear description of the manner in which requests for information may be made to the public body. Due to this, the public has no idea of where to go for their required information. When public body websites do not explain how a person can contact them to request information or even what information is available, this adds to the confusion and creates suspicion in the minds of the public. It is a direct violation of their own RTI laws which can be resolved by simply putting up a couple of web pages.”

Many of the analysed websites show that there is a general misunderstanding about what “Web Accessibility” concerns.

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.” — Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web.

When the report evaluated public body websites according to W3C standards, it found that there are a number of barriers that prevent interaction and access to people with disabilities. Correctly designed, developed and edited websites will give all users equal access to information and functionality. This is one of the major problems with all public bodies websites.

In previous versions of the report, the research had identified the areas in which these websites were lacking and had presented clear recommendations for improvement. The recent report has found that almost none of the websites acted upon those suggestions therefore, their scores have remained largely unchanged.

Link to the report:


- End -

"Coalition of Right to Information seeks to promote an open information and communications policies at the federal, provincial and district levels across Pakistan. With various initiatives, the coalition of civil society organizations aims to promote citizen awareness and improve dialogue between the citizens and state."

Digital Rights Foundation is a research based advocacy organisation based in Pakistan focusing on ICTs to support human rights, democratic processes and better digital governance. DRF opposes any and all sorts of online censorship and violations of human rights both on ground and online.  We firmly believe that freedom of speech and open access to online content is critically important for the development of socio-economy of the country.

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