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July 24, 2023 - Comments Off on DRF strongly condemns the recent incident of sexual exploitation and harassment at the Islamia University Bahawalpur

DRF strongly condemns the recent incident of sexual exploitation and harassment at the Islamia University Bahawalpur

Trigger Warning

25 July 2023

Digital Rights Foundation strongly condemns the recent sexual exploitation and incidents of harassment that took place at Islamia University Bahawalpur (IUB), where the university’s Chief Security Officer was arrested by local police when explicit pictures and videos of women around campus, staff members and students alike, were retrieved from his cellular devices.

This distressing turn of events marks the third high-profile case in many years. In 2019, a similar incident like this took place at the University of Balochistan, Quetta, and later at the King Edward Medical University Lahore. Incidents like these are indicative of an alarming pattern of misconduct emerging, where at least two of the known cases implicate the chief of security as the primary accused.

DRF calls upon the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Senate/Parliament Human Rights Committee once again. The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) did take a Suo Moto of the incident and we are encouraged by the NCHR taking up this matter and hope there is effective follow-through in the future. 

In the aftermath of the ongoing situation, systemic issues at educational institutions which have already been highlighted previously by DRF have been brought to light. The ongoing instances have reminded us of past complaints regarding geographical constraints that make reporting difficult especially for female victims; the prospect of traveling long distances to register their cases of harassment often deters them entirely. Even in this particular case, if students from IUB were to register a case under the Prevention of Electronics Crimes Act (PECA) with the FIA, they would have had to travel to Multan which would not only result in a significant financial cost for them but would also be a burden on victims already under distress. Efforts to ensure that no survivor is kept from seeking justice must be prioritized by making the reporting process more accessible and efficient. Addressing the concerns and hesitations of survivors is important and only in doing so can we achieve a supportive environment that empowers victims to come forward with their stories.

Investigative authorities must be required by law to provide sensitized and timely relief to victims. Meanwhile, where such laws are in place, lack of effective implementation and monitoring become the problem. The senate human rights committee in 2019 acts as a prime example here, since it took up jurisdiction of harassment cases recorded on CCTV cameras on campus. Yet, safe spaces for female students have not been created on campus.

Simultaneously, the privacy and confidentiality of the victims must be safeguarded at all costs. Instead, statements by those in the position to protect the women and investigate these incidents choose to question the victims themselves, displaying an inability to take responsibility and a complete disregard for the clear imbalance of power. 

This discovery at the IUB serves as an alarming awakening that harassment continues to prevail in professional and/or academic arenas. Relevant personnel have failed to strictly enforce the rules set out by the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act 2022 and, therefore, have been responsible for the current menace of sexual exploitation in our educational institutions and society at large. It is imperative to mention that the perpetrators at IUB and UOB both were Chief of Security and CCTV was installed for ‘safety’ which rather led to more insecurity and a violation of privacy for women on campus. If stringent and strict action isn’t taken in cases like these it would lead to parents’ reluctance to send their daughters for higher education in Pakistan where female literacy is already an issue.

If you or someone you know needs help reporting cyber harassment, please get in touch with us at the Cyber Harassment Helpline operating from Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm on 0800-39393. You can also email us at [email protected] or contact us on our socials. 


June 4, 2021 - Comments Off on The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights strongly condemns the petition registered for treason case against Asma Sherzai

The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights strongly condemns the petition registered for treason case against Asma Sherzai

The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights (NWJDR) strongly condemns the petition registered in Gujranwala for treason cases against notable Pakistani journalists, Asma Sherazi and Hamid Mir. 

Asma had addressed a rally of the media fraternity protesting a recent attack on  journalist Asad Ali Toor and the suspension of Hamid Mir from GEO News’s Capital Talk. 

In her tweet, Shirazi said truth had a price. “Faced all kinds of threats and pressures numerous times. Musharraf [former military dictator] banned us in 2007, dealt with treason threats and all kinds of pressure tactics”.

NWJDR finds it extremely disturbing to see the space for dissent and providing reliable information to the public rapidly shrink in Pakistan, as journalists as well as human rights defenders are particularly at risk of censorship, intimidation, physical violence, threats and arbitrary detention.

If the authorities are committed to uphold their human rights obligations, NWJDR urges the government to take immediate and decisive steps to investigate the recent spate of attacks on journalists. It also calls upon the government to reject the petition on charges of treason against notable journalists Asma Sherazi and Hamid Mir. 

The Human Rights Ministry has recently introduced the Journalist and Media Professionals Protection Bill in the National Assembly which can go a long way to protect the rights of journalists and the NWJDR urges the Ministry to take steps to immediately look into the matter and dismantle the impunity for crimes against journalists. 

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

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

November 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Rules can be accessed here:

 The earlier version of the Rules can be accessed here: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 21, 2020 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation expresses concern regarding banning of popular social media applications TikTok and Bigo Live

Digital Rights Foundation expresses concern regarding banning of popular social media applications TikTok and Bigo Live

The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) banned the popular social media application Bigo Live and issued a final warning to TikTok via press release on July 20, 2020, purportedly acting on a ‘number of complaints’ against the alleged ‘immoral, obscene and vulgar content’ on these applications. Additional reasons for the ban and warning included ‘their extremely negative effects on society in general and youth in particular.’ As an organisation working in the field of digital rights and freedoms for nearly a decade, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) sees this as a blatant violation of the Constitutional right to freedom of expression online and urges the PTA to reconsider its approach for the safety of minors. These measures and warnings call for a fundamental reflection on the laws of censorship in place in Pakistan.

Pakistan has a long history of bans on social media platforms. In 2010, the Lahore High Court directed the government to block access to Facebook; a ban that lasted for a few days. Similarly, YouTube was blocked in Pakistan for three years. The Islamabad High Court issued orders in 2018 directing the PTA to swiftly deal with illegal content online, threatening otherwise that the courts would be compelled to block social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Last year the PTA reported to the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecom that a total of 900,000 URLs have been blocked in the country. More recently, the PTA, acting upon directions of the Lahore High Court, ‘temporarily banned’ the popular mobile-based game PUBG. Earlier this month, a petition was filed at the Lahore High Court calling for a ban on TikTok.

The internet is a medium for expression, ranging from political to artistic content, and access to information that includes vital health information, news and entertainment. Applications such as TikTok and Bigo Live are video-based platforms used by a diverse set of users for expressing their right to speech and accessing content, both rights guaranteed under Articles 19 and 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan. Any curtailment of these rights needs to be proportionate in nature, necessary to the specific harm being caused and established by law. Blanket bans on social media platforms are neither proportionate, necessary to the harm stated in by the PTA nor justified by law.

Firstly, the criteria of ‘obscenity’, ‘vulgarity’ and ‘immorality’ used by the PTA is extremely vague and no objective legal standard has been employed by the Authority to take its decision. This was also reflected in the petition against TikTok submitted before the Lahore High Court that contended that users on the app are “spreading nudity and pornography for the sake of fame and rating”. It is not lost on us that the criteria of obscenity is often articulated in gendered terms and was the same justification used by petitions calling for a ban on the Aurat March earlier this year. Platforms such as TikTok and Bigo provide young people space to express themselves freely, in ways that they cannot in other spaces of society. It is also no coincidence that the user base of TikTok and Bigo is extremely diverse, consisting of users from different classes and genders. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, apps such as TikTok are not text-heavy and thus lend themselves to a more diverse userbase as lack of literacy is no longer a barrier. Justifications based on ‘vulgarity’ and ‘obscenity’ are often stand-ins for society’s discomfort with expression that deviates from gendered norms and carries classist assumptions of what constitutes ‘respectable’, ‘acceptable’ content.

The popularity of TikTok and Bigo among Pakistanis should be celebrated, it provides an avenue for artistic expression, a platform for expression and space for connection with one another. The content on these applications, no matter how frivolous or ‘silly’ is protected speech, and is important for any society that values culture. The courts, government or the PTA are no one to judge whether it is valuable or beneficial for society or not. Additionally, these platforms provided content creators with an opportunity to earn revenue from their live streams and creative videos. Many Pakistanis are among the top professional online gamers, using platforms such as PUBG, and there is a burgeoning local e-sports culture. In a post-Covid19 economy, as prospects for employment for the youth are rapidly shrinking, taking away these economic opportunities could devastate the livelihoods of many.

While the PTA does not allude to it, many have cited the extremely horrific incident of gang rape in Lahore as further justification for the ban. The victim/survivor was a user of TikTok who allegedly met her rapist over the app and agreed to meet in person to record a video, which is when the incident took place. Violence against women and rape is a systemic issue that predates any social media application and will, unfortunately, continue even if the internet was banned in Pakistan. This rhetoric of ‘protecting women’ is part of an old playbook, women’s safety issues are hijacked by voices to enact paternalistic, heavy-handed measures which do very little to tackle systemic violence against gendered bodies or dismantle patriarchal structures, rather seek to restrict freedoms. As a digital and women’s rights organisation, we are witness to the justifications used by the government to pass draconian legislation such as the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act in 2016 which has done little to protect women and gendered minorities in online spaces. The desire to police women’s bodies and expression is again apparent when the criteria of obscenity and vulgarity are invoked to limit internet freedoms.

Secondly, it is disingenuous to argue that these platforms are being used to negatively influence the youth as even a cursory look at the content on TikTok and Bigo reveals that this is patently not the case. The community guidelines of these platforms prohibit pornography and harmful content for minors. Any content violating these policies is either auto-deleted by the algorithm or can be reported in-app. When a proportionate remedy exists for the alleged harm caused, there is no point in banning entire applications which contain diverse content. If any content on the application is deemed to contain hate speech or cause harm to minors, then it should be reported as a piece of individual content to either the social media company for removal or taken up with the relevant law enforcement agencies. Individual pieces of content cannot be used to justify the banning of an entire platform; a move that would be grossly disproportionate.

Additionally, social media companies cannot be held liable for individual pieces of content on their platforms. While each company should be required to have mechanisms for removal and monitoring of harmful content in place, the principle of intermediary liability states that these platforms cannot be expected to be held liable for every content that is posted. Users are well within their rights to demand that social media companies have adequate mechanisms and systems in place that protect the most vulnerable groups using their platform, however, platforms cannot be expected to guarantee that no harmful content will ever be posted. As long as there are systems in place to detect, report and remove such content when it does appear the companies are acting within the scope of their limited liability.

Thirdly, the justification of these bans to ‘protect’ children and the youth is akin to banning highways to prevent road accidents. The mental health, wellbeing and safety of children and young adults should be a concern for us all, however, banning applications is a paternalistic solution to a problem whose root causes are beyond individual applications or even the internet. Mental health is an epidemic worldwide and Pakistan, in particular, lacks the infrastructure to provide quality mental healthcare to its citizens, including the youth. In a country with a massive youth bulge, it is concerning that avenues for expression and entertainment, which are vital parts of intellectual and emotional growth, are extremely limited. As per a study by UNDP in 2018, it was reported that a majority of Pakistani youth do not have access to recreational facilities or events: 78.6% do not have access to parks; 97.2% lack access to live music; 93.9% lack access to sporting events; 97% can’t access cinemas and 93% are denied access to sports facilities. By banning applications primarily used by the youth, the state will be denying them a platform for self-expression in a society that already lacks alternatives.

Fourthly, individual pieces of content can be reported to the PTA under section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA). If individual accounts or content violates the criteria for removal, the PTA has the power to “remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to an information”. This needs to be done through an order passed by the PTA and such an order needs to be communicated to the aggrieved party who has the right under section 37(4) to ask for a review of the order for blocking or removal. Furthermore, an appeal to the relevant high court against the decision of the PTA also lies under section 37(5). As a digital rights organisation, we believe that these powers are already too broad and need to be reviewed; but it is concerning that in banning entire platforms the PTA is exceeding even these excessive powers in an arbitrary manner.

This month TikTok, along with 58 other Chinese-owned apps, was banned by the Modi-led government in India as a result of its strained relations with China. Statements by the US government have expressed similar possible plans. While there are legitimate concerns to be raised regarding the content regulation and privacy policies of the application, these decisions do not seem to be driven out of genuine concern for users’ rights rather are part of a larger geostrategic move to isolate China. As a country that has repeatedly raised alarm regarding the fascist tendencies of the Modi government, it is surprising that the government in Pakistan is taking a similar heavy-handed approach to internet censorship.

We demand an overhaul of the internet regulation regime in place as it is extremely arbitrary and violates the principles of freedom of expression and access to information, enshrined in not only international conventions that Pakistan has ratified but also guaranteed under its own Constitution. These individual cases point towards a wider trend of shrinking online freedoms. As concerned citizens, we demand:

  1. Immediately lift bans on PUBG and Bigo Live, and reconsider warnings issued to TikTok;
  2. Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 be repealed;
  3. The government move towards a model of self-regulation that is compliant with international human rights standards;
  4. Transparency from the PTA regarding the content that is reported to the Authority and publicly available orders which delineate the reasons for removing/blocking specific content;
  5. A comprehensive and welfare-based plan for the protection of children and adolescents which includes investment in digital literacy, access to mental health counselling and programs for the performing arts; and
  6. Immediate de-notification of the Citizen's Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules and abandonment of the approach taken in the Rules as a viable mechanism for regulating the internet.
 Read about the impact of the TikTok ban in India here:

June 22, 2020 - Comments Off on DRF Condemns Move Against Open Source Technology and OTF

DRF Condemns Move Against Open Source Technology and OTF

In a world where online freedoms are increasingly under threat from all sides, organisations who work on supporting a free and safe internet are more important than ever. This is why Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) is extremely worried by developments by the US government that might undermine the work Open Tech Fund (OTF) does.

Serious concerns over the future of OTF were raised last week when the new head of the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), was planning to push money and funding towards closed-source tools. OTF is an independent non-profit grantee of the USAGM and has been supporting organisations, journalists, human rights defenders and users by funding innovative and open-source projects which uphold internet freedoms across the word. This move prompted Libby Liu, the inaugural OTF CEO, to step down from her position citing concerns of interference from the new head of the USAGM in “the current FY2020 OTF funding stream and redirect some of our resources to a few closed-source circumvention tools."

OTF was one of the first supporters of DRF’s cyber harassment helpline, which has provided assistance to over 4000 individuals across Pakistan and continues to support journalists, activists, HRDs, women, children and vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 pandemic. The planned move by the USAGM threatens this support and similar work that OTF does with organisations globally. In the last eight years, OTF’s projects have “enabled more than 2 billion people in over 60 countries to safely access the internet.”

As beneficiaries, both direct and indirectly from the tools that OTF supports, we urge the US Congress to take concrete and immediate steps to ensure that OTF continues to support open-source and digital rights projects all over the world. We echo the demands made by the ‘Save Internet Freedom Tech’ coalition including that “all US-Government internet freedom funds to be awarded via an open, fair, competitive, and evidence-based decision process.”

The internet has enabled us to innovate, connect and thrive, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. We believe that internet freedom is the bedrock of what makes all these things possible on the internet, and organisations such as OTF which support the work of internet freedom are central to this foundation.

May 18, 2020 - Comments Off on Digital Rights Foundation urges for accountability in Waziristan honour killings

Digital Rights Foundation urges for accountability in Waziristan honour killings

May 18, 2020

Digital Rights Foundation expresses its outrage regarding the cold-blooded murder of two teenage girls at the hands of their family member, killed in the name of misplaced and patriarchal notions of “honour”. The honour killing was prompted by a short mobile video of the young man that surfaced on social media. The video was leaked without the girls’ consent and contained private imagery.

Regrettably, killings in the name of so-called honour are not a new phenomenon in Pakistan and several parts of the world, technology-enabled violence is emerging as a tool for shaming women and controlling their autonomy. Videos and images of women are often weaponised to blackmail, exercise control and inflict violence on women, employing technology as another tool in service of the patriarchy. In Pakistan, the digital gender divide is among the largest in the world, as women are 37 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone device of their own. Furthermore, women’s access is often surveilled and controlled by patriarchal figures in their lives. This gap is particularly stark in areas such as Waziristan where mobile internet access has been denied due to a prolonged internet shutdown, resulting in women being deprived of access to resources and crucial information that can potentially save lives.

This is not the first time honour killings resulted from the leaking of women’s private information and images. In a society where women’s consent and their bodily autonomy is regularly violated and dismissed, technology often serves as a handmaiden of these patriarchal structures. Women accessing online spaces or using technology to express themselves or exercise pleasure have heartbreakingly been met with violence and censure. Qandeel Baloch subverted online spaces to express herself and her sexuality, only to be met with online violence and privacy violations which culminated in her murder at the hands of her brother. The 2011 Kohistan case, which saw the murder of three men and five young women due to a video in which they were dancing in their private home, took multiple investigations, intervention by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and nearly eight years to see justice. 

While a First Information Report (FIR) of the incident has been registered at Razmak police station in North Waziristan, we would urge the authorities to closely monitor the investigation and prosecution of the case given the heinous nature of the crime. Honour killings should not only be condemned across the board, but the action taken by the police and courts should reflect this. Too often, societal pressure, familial collusion and uneven application of the law have marred cases in the past. Since the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act, 2016, the law is clear regarding the limited ability of the family to pardon the perpetrator in cases of honour killings and the state must ensure that section 311 of the Pakistan Penal Code is implemented in its true spirit. In addition to ensuring justice against the honour killing, an investigation should also be launched into the leaking of the private and intimate video. These videos put women’s lives at risk and contribute to a culture where women’s bodies are consumed as objects for male pleasure. Women, through exploitative imagery, are dehumanised, blackmailed and often re-traumatised.

We also urge the state to take immediate and pre-emptive measures to ensure the safety of the other two individuals in the leaked clips. Particularly the security and privacy of the young woman must be ensured and should serve as a precedent for all future investigations dealing with leaked images and videos of women.

Unfortunately, honour killings are not a relic of outdated or fringe ideas, they are grounded in current notions of viewing women as familial and societal property, bearing the impossible burden of carrying the honour of the family, community and nation. In just the last month alone, there were six reported cases of honour killings only in Swat. Furthermore, it is important to state that digital rights such as privacy and protection from online hate speech should be universally enjoyed, however they are particularly important to ensure the safety of women and gender minorities in online spaces--for women and gender minorities, effective mechanisms ensuring the enforcement of these rights can be the difference between life and death.