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February 19, 2024 - Comments Off on NWJDR condemns the use of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) and Generative AI to attack and silence women journalists

NWJDR condemns the use of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) and Generative AI to attack and silence women journalists

PAKISTAN: The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights (NWDJR) is angered and deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks against prominent women journalist Meher Bokhari and others in online spaces by PML(N) party supporters. On examining multiple platforms, NWJDR has found non-consensual use of images (NCUI), non-consensual use of intimate images (NCII) and doctored images created through generative artificial intelligence (AI) and other AI tools of Meher Bokhari being shared online with sexist, misogynistic and sexualized gendered attacks. 


It is not the first time women journalists have been targeted by political party supporters online. There has been pervasive and persistent online harassment, sexualized and otherwise gendered disinformation faced by women journalists in Pakistan, with many being threatened with physical assault and offline violence. We’ve witnessed multiple incidents of female journalists' private information being leaked online with what we can say are well-planned and directed efforts to silence them & resulted in stalking and offline harassment. In Meher’s case, the attempt to malign, scare and threaten her with morphed images of her on objectionable content through generative AI tools points towards a remarkably alarming trend of a new form of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV) against journalists. 


Before the elections, NWJDR released the 6-point agenda on media freedom and journalist safety for political parties' electoral manifestos, which was signed by more than 100 journalists and civil society members on journalist safety. It has been quite alarming and disappointing that despite the efforts to raise our concerns with political parties around journalist safety, we witnessed, in a matter of days, attacks on journalists like Meher Bokhari, Maria Memon, Hamid Mir, Saadia Mazhar and Benazir Shah, to name a few along with family members of journalists for simply reporting during Pakistan’s general elections 2024. 


The action angers NWJDR, and we’d like to reiterate that online violence and abuse constitute as an offense and complaint-based action should be taken by relevant authorities. 


Signed by: 

    1. Absa Komal - Dawn TV
    2. Hafsa Javed Khawja - The reporters
    3. Mehr F Husain - Editor- The Friday Times/ Publisher, ZUKA Books 
    4. Amber Rahim Shamsi - Director, Centre for Excellence in Journalism 
    5. Saadia Mazhar- Freelance Investigative journalist
    6. Tehreem Azeem - Freelance Journalist and Researcher
    7. Laiba Zainab- The Current 
    8. Rabbiya.A. - Turkman Multimedia Journalist & Documentary Maker
    9. Shehzad Yousafzai
    10. Nighat Dad - Executive Director, Digital Rights Foundation 
    11. Amer Malik - Senior Journalist, The News International 
    12. Kaif Afridi - News Producer, Tribal News Network
    13. Feroza Fayyaz - Web-Editor, Samaa TV
    14. Muhammad Ammad - Copy Editor 
    15. Nasreen Jabeen - AbbTakk News 
    16. Seerat Khan - Programs Lead/Co-editor Digital 50.50 , Digital Rights Foundation
    17. Afra Fatima - Digital journalist 
    18. Fauzia Kalsoom Rana- Producer Power show with Asma Chaudhary, Founder and Convenor Women journalists Association of Pakistan WJAP 
    19. Muhammad Bilal Baseer Abbasi - Multimedia Journalist, Deutsche Welle (DW) News Asia / Urdu Service
    20. Mahwish Fakhar - Producer Dawn TV 
  • Sadia Rafique Radio Broadcaster - FM 101
    1. Sarah B. Haider - Freelance Journalist
    2. Ramsha Jahangir - Journalist 
    3. Zoya Anwer - Independent Journalist 
    4. Afifa Nasar Ullah - Multimedia journalist/foreign correspondent at Deutsche Welle.
  • Sheema Siddiqui- Geo TV Karachi 
  • Mudassir Zeb - Crimes Reporter Daily Aksriyat Peshawar.
  • Nasreen Jabeen - Daily Jang Peshawar
  1. Aftab Mohammad - Dialogue Pakistan 
  2. Anees Takar - Frontier Post, Radio Aman Network 
  3. Unbreen Fatima- Deutsche Welle
  4. Khalida Niaz- Tribal News Network 
  5. Naheed Jahangir- Assistant Media Manager 
  6. Fozia Ghani- Freelance Journalist
  7. Ayesha Saghir- Express News
  8. Aamir Akhtar - Freelance Investigate Journalist  Swabi, GTV News/Such News
  9. Rani Wahidi - Correspondent, Deutsche Welle (DW) Urdu  
  10. Fahmidah Yousfi- Rava Documentary
  11. Kamran Ali- Reporter- Aaj News 
  12. Jamaima Afridi- Freelance Journalist
  13. Fatima Razzaq- Lok Sujag 
  14. Umaima Ahmed- Global Voices
  15. Najia Asher President GNMI
  16. Sanam Junejo - Associated Press of Pakistan
  17. Asma Kundi-
  18. Maryam Nawaz- Geo News
  19. Lubna Jarrar - Freelance Journalist
  20. Sumaira Ashraf-  Video journalist DW
  21. Laiba hussan - Aaj news
  22. Uroosa Jadoon- Geo News 
  23. Tanzeela Mazhar GTV 
  24. Ayesha Rehman - Geo News 
  25. Najia Mir - Anchor/Producer KTN News
  26. Afia Salam- Freelance Journalist
  27. Farieha Aziz - Co-founder, Bolo Bhi
  28. Mehmal Sarfraz-  Journalist
  29. Benazir Shah-  Editor, Geo Fact Check
  30. Mahjabeen Abid- PTV National Multan 
  31. Zainab Durrani - Senior Program Manager, Digital Rights Foundation 
  32. Nadia Malik - Senior Executive Producer Geo News
  33. Annam Lodhi - Freelance Journalist 
  34. Fatima Sheikh - Freelance Journalist/ Communications Executive at CEJ-IBA
  35. Maryam Saeed - Editor Digital 50.50
  36. Rabia Mushtaq - Senior Sub-editor,
  37. Nadia Naqi, Dawn News

February 19, 2024 - Comments Off on Demanding Accountability, Transparency, and Support for Domestic Violence survivors/victims in the Media Industry

Demanding Accountability, Transparency, and Support for Domestic Violence survivors/victims in the Media Industry


PAKISTAN: The Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights (NWDJR) is not only deeply concerned but fiercely angered at yet another instance of brutal domestic violence by the male members of the journalist community. This time, the alleged perpetrator is an influential media person, an ARY anchor named Ashfaque Ishaq Satti. 


Enough is enough; we are appalled at the criminal justice systems and institutions permeated with patriarchy that condone violence against women, dismissing it as a mere “personal or private dispute.” Domestic violence is criminalised in Pakistan under the Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Act 2020. Additionally, the dignity of an individual is a fundamental right protected in the Constitution of Pakistan, and dismissing it as “a personal” matter is incongruous when the law specifically safeguards it as a human right. Domestic violence is the result of deep-rooted political structures and power dynamics that are intrinsically oppressive and patriarchal. We strongly believe that the personal is political, and for women, the challenges they face in their personal lives--the double shift due to inequitable distribution of care and domestic work, violence within the home, harassment in work and public places, online abuse directed at them--impacts and often puts their lives in danger. 


We have not forgotten the murder of Shaheena Shaheen at the hands of her husband, another perpetrator from the media fraternity. NWJDR has also received individual testimonies from its members of women journalists who are facing severe domestic abuse and violence from their partners who are also part of the media industry, and holding influential positions. Through the countless testimonies we have received, we foresee a new and dangerous trend of male journalists perpetrating violence in their relationships, highlighting a bleak picture that needs urgent action. 


As reported by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in 2020, over 90% of Pakistani women have faced domestic violence in their lifetime. According to a media report in Express Tribune in 2022, “data released under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, cases of domestic violence saw an increase in the last five years. Same is the situation in courts; an estimated forty percent of cases in courts are family cases, and the remaining sixty percent involve crimes like murder, kidnapping and theft. For example, if a court has 150 total cases for hearing, at least eighty-five cases are family cases, mainly of violence”. How many more women will have to become victims of domestic abuse for it to be taken seriously? 


Domestic violence is often an underreported crime due to the stigma surrounding it and because of the lack of accessibility to complaint mechanisms for victims. Women are not believed; even when they provide evidence of abuse there is a hue and cry on how there are “two sides” to the story. How men use influence in cases of domestic violence to evade accountability and impunity is not uncommon. Law enforcement agencies, including the police, also force the survivors of abuse to reach a settlement outside the court, again reiterating how a “private” matter should remain within the confines of the house and associating ‘family honor’ with a woman’s dignity and identity. 


The concerns that women face should be taken seriously and acted upon, and in cases where male journalists are involved, media outlets as well as the government must respond immediately to ensure that influence is not exercised to evade legal action.  State inaction sends a message to women that they are on their own and in the long term discourages them from speaking up against abuse and filing a complaint. The challenges that women face before they actually speak up are already humongous; from living in close proximity with the perpetrators who are constantly surveilling their physical movement and devices to going back to the same house after registering a complaint can cost women their lives.  


Additionally NWJDR acknowledges and appreciates the step taken by ARY Management to immediately suspend Ashfaq Satti till the law takes its course and decides the matter. It is a promising step on how our society should have zero tolerance for violence against women. However, a lot more needs to be done before to prevent the menace of domestic violence in our country.


We, the undersigned, demand the following:


  1. We call upon media outlets to thoroughly investigate allegations against their personnel and take prompt and decisive action against individuals found guilty of domestic violence. Media organizations must not shield perpetrators and should instead prioritize the safety and well-being of women who are subjected to human rights abuses.
  2. We urge law enforcement agencies, especially the police, to handle cases of domestic violence with the seriousness they deserve. Survivor complaints should be thoroughly and impartially investigated, and survivors should not be coerced into settling outside the court. The police should actively pursue legal action against perpetrators, ensuring that the law is applied without influence or bias.
  3. We call upon the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) to proactively intervene in cases of domestic violence, particularly those involving perpetrators from the media industry. This includes conducting independent investigations into reported incidents, ensuring the protection of survivors, and holding perpetrators accountable under the law.
  4. We urge press clubs and journalist unions to actively condemn such grave incidents and avoid using their influence to silence or pressure women survivors of domestic violence to save male members of the media fraternity. These organizations must prioritize the safety and well-being of their members over protecting individuals accused of such heinous acts.
  5. Domestic abuse leaves a lasting impact on mental health and well being of the victim. The government must provide free psychological assistance to the victims.
  6. Healthcare in Pakistan is not easy and free to obtain especially when a case has been registered with the police. The government must ensure setting up sections in hospitals where victims are provided with free medical treatment.



  Name Organization Location
1 Bushra Iqbal Multimedia Journalist Islamabad
2 Laiba Zainab The Current Lahore
3 Madiha Abid Ali Anchor Person  PTV News Islamabad
4 Khalida Niaz sub editor TNN Peshawar
5 Lubna Jerar Naqvi Freelance Journalist Karachi
6 Zeenat Bibi Freelance  Journalist Peshawar
7 Asma Sherazi Senior Anchor, journalist Islamabad
8 Zainab Durrani Senior Program Manager DRF  
9 Xari Jalil Editor/Co-founder, Voicepk Lahore
10 Afshan Mansab Native media Lahore
11 Saddia Mazhar DW Urdu  
12 Umaima Ahmed Global Voices Lahore
13 Mahwish Fakhar Dawn TV Islamabad
14 Saeeda Salarzai Freelance  
15 Unbreen Fatima Freelance Journalist Karachi
16 Fozia Ghani Freelance Lahore
17 Ayesha Saghir Express News Lahore
18 Fahmidah Yousfi Rava Documentary Karachi
19 Salma jehangir TNN Peshawar
20 Sheeama Siddiqui Geo Karachi
21 Pernia Khan Freelance Lahore
22 Mahjabeen abid Pakistan Television Multan
23 Tanzeela Mazhar GTV Islamabad
24 Tayyaba Nisar Khan PTV World Islamabad
25 Ayesha Khalid Comms Manager, Media Matters for Democracy  
26 Rabia Mushtaq Karachi
27 Afia Salam  Environmental journalist Karachi
28 Fatima Razzaq, Journalist, CEO Lok Sujag  
29 Samina Chaudhary APP Islamabad
30 Tehreem Azeem Freelance Lahore
31 Bilal Azmat SM Executive   Dawn    Islamabad
32 Bushra Pasha DW Karachi
33 Moazzam Bhatti Freelance journalist Islamabad
34 Zoya Anwer, Freelance Journalist  
35 Miranda Husain, Editor and Journalist Lahore
36 Fauzia Kalsoom Rana Founder and Convenor Women journalists Association of Pakistan WJAP Islamabad
37 Islam Gul Afridi Correspondent,Special broadcasting Services Peshawar
38 Dr. Rabia Noor ARY News Lahore
39 Sanam junejo APP Islamabad
40 Nabila Feroz Bhatti Freelance Journalist Lahore
41 Asma Kundi,  
42 Maryam Nawaz Geo news Islamabad
43 Xari Jalil Lahore
44 Sabahat Khan Freelance Islamabad
45 Sarah B. Haider Freelance journalist Islamabad
46 Mahnoor shakeel Freelance journalist Mardan
47 Ambreen Sikander GTV News Karachi
48 ShaziaMehboob Tribune Islamabad
49 Aneela Ashraf Freelance Journalist & Founder Journalists Save Movement Multan
50 Sumeira Ashraf Head of assignment and planning at 24 news HD Islamabad
51 Shawaiz Tahir Samaa Tv Islamabad
52 Beena Sarwar Founder Editor, Sapan News Network Boston
53 Ali Jabir Malik Reporter, APP                                         Islamabad 
54 Haya Fatima Iqbal Co Founder, Documentary Association of Pakistan  
55 Syeda Mehr Mustafa Freelancer  
56 Zeenat Shehzadi Investigative Journalist  
57 Zunaira Rafi We News Urdu  
58 Sophia Siddiqui Chief Editor Glory Magazine Islamabad
59 Maryam Saeed Editor Digital 50.50 Digital Rights Foundation  
60 Mehr F Husain Editor, The Friday Times/ Publisher, ZUKA Lahore/Dubai
61 Kainat Malik Chief Editor Jamal e jahan Rajanpur
62 Wajeeha aslam Samaa news manager special project Lahore
63 Rabia Anum Tv Host  
64 Marian Sharaf Joseph Freelance Journalist Lahore
65 Ismat Jabeen DW Correspondent Islamabad
66 Shinza nawaz PTV Islamabad
67 Ali Tanoli Geo News Islamabad
68 Nadir Guramani Anchor, journalist, Dawn news Islamabad
69 Qurrat ul Ain Shirazi Roving CorrespondentThe Independent Urdu Islamabad
70 Fatima Ali Correspondent Independent Urdu Lahore
71 Fauzia Yazdani    
72 Beenish Javed Freelance journalist Islamabad /Berlin
73 Jamaima Afridi Freelance Journalist  
74 Asad Ali Toor freelance journalist  
75 Arifa Noor Dawn tv Islamabad
76 Sabah Bano Malik Freelance journalist, Radio Host CityFM89 Karachi
77 Haroon Rasheed Indy Urdu  
78 Mehmal Sarfraz Journalist Lahore
79 Naheed jehangir Assistant media manager lady Reading Hospital Peshawar
80 Maryam Zia Anchor, PTV World  
81 Muhammad Faheem Mashriq Peshawar
82 Anam Baloch Comms Manager, Digital Rights Foundation Lahore
83 Sualeha Qureshi Director, Soch Media Karachi




With the upcoming general elections in Pakistan, the Digital Rights Foundation urges political parties to include six key digital rights issues in their manifestos. This is crucial for a robust democracy, enabling citizens to scrutinize the new government effectively. The issues range from funding AI research initiatives and establishing a robust data protection regime, including enacting Data Protection Law, to PECA amendments and law enforcement capacity building. Additionally, it involves parliamentary oversight on the FIA’s Cyber Crime Wing, monitoring the actions of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, conducting human rights impact assessments on tech tools and cyber policies, bridging digital divide across Pakistan and revising existing tech policies that are detrimental to fundamental rights in the digital age.

1. Institute Parliamentary Oversight, Impact Assessment and Human Rights Audits:
    • Ensure effective and robust parliamentary oversight of the FIA under Section 53 of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016, while ensuring alignment with human rights principles.
    • Convene a multi-stakeholder committee, inclusive of legal experts, human rights advocates, and technology professionals, to amend the problematic and vague sections of PECA.
      • Defamation should be removed as a criminal offense by repealing Section 20 of the ‘Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016’ and Section 499/500 of the Pakistan Penal Code in compliance with General Comment No. 34, Human Rights Committee.
      • Section 37 of the ‘Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016’ should be repealed and ‘Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards), Rules 2021’ should be denotified, and all laws concerning freedom of expression should be amended to remove vague/overbroad criteria for online content moderation.
    • Initiate a comprehensive impact assessment of the Federal Investigation Agency's Cyber Crime Wing, with a focus on evaluating its effectiveness and adherence to human rights standards. Ensure the findings of impact assessments lead to amendments and improvements to the existing structure, capacity, objectives and rules and protocols that aim to safeguard vulnerable groups rather than harm them.
    • Establish and implement effective transparency and accountability measures through mandatory human rights audits, such as through the National Commission on Human Rights, of state agencies and bodies regarding the acquisition of technologies used to regulate digital content, communications and data.
2. Ensure Digital Accessibility and Inclusion:
      • Make a firm commitment to prohibit and prevent arbitrary internet shutdowns that hamper the citizen’s access to the internet, a fundamental right and one essential for the exercise of other human rights. Pay particular attention to the internet shutdown in the ex-FATA area which has lasted more than 7 years since its issuance in June 2016. Despite some progress in 2021 regarding the restoration of the internet in some parts overall access in these regions remain precarious as services are frequently re-suspended on vague security grounds.
      • Ensure the incorporation of digital accessibility standards into national policies, such as the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), to ensure that website content and online services and platforms are accessible for individuals with disabilities and language constraints.
      • Invest in the expansion of reliable and affordable internet infrastructure, prioritizing rural and underserved areas to bridge the digital divide for this demographic and women and girls. Additionally, collaborate with technology providers to ensure the availability of budget-friendly and user-friendly devices, catering specifically to the needs of women and girls.

3. Protect Online Freedoms: Right to Privacy, Assembly and Association & Freedom of Expression

      • Amend the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023 to align it with the international human rights standards. Initiate transparent and inclusive consultations with relevant stakeholders to make the bill human rights centric as the current bill falls short of ensuring protection of people, their data and rights.  Ensure that the law requires establishing an independent oversight body which has substantive powers to hold private and public bodies accountable for breaches of citizens’ privacy and data security and finally enact data protection law in order to protect personal data of citizens of Pakistan.
      • Ensure Constitutional guarantees including the right to online freedom of assembly and association under Article 16. Make explicit guarantees to stop blocking of digital communications to prevent public gatherings and mobilisation under section 54(3) of the ‘Pakistan Telecommunications Act 1996’. 
      • Implement safeguards to prevent the misuse of cybercrime laws on the freedom of expression of citizens, particularly individuals charged by authorities for online content deemed critical of public figures and institutions.
4. Ensure Ethical use of Artificial Intelligence (AI):
        • Establish a dedicated AI Ethics Committee with inclusive representatives from civil society, academics, businesses, and technical experts to:
          • develop and adhere to clear Ethical Guidelines for the Use of AI by the State, particularly including the use of facial recognition systems and social media surveillance to ensure they are grounded in the human rights principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
          • continuously assess and update the guidelines to ensure that the development, design and deployment of AI technology is human rights centric and doesn’t exclude the experiences of marginalized communities.
5. Protect Rights of Businesses and IT Industry
    • Establish a task force comprising industry experts, businesses and policymakers to regularly review and update policies that impact the industry, fostering innovation and growth.
    • Implement inclusive policies and strategies that cater to the needs of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the IT sector, such as providing access to finance, mentorship programs, and regulatory relief. 

Align national laws and regulations with international standards and treaties, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which ensure that businesses operate responsibly and respect human rights throughout their activities

6. Elevate Digital Literacy and Research on Tech and AI
      • Implement targeted digital literacy programs designed for women, girls and the transgender community aimed at fostering proficiency in fundamental computer literacy, internet navigation, and online safety practices, particularly focusing on the rural and fringe populations..
      • Incorporate comprehensive digital citizenship programs into education curricula, emphasizing responsible online behavior, ethical use of technology and AI, and digital rights awareness for children.
      • Enhance research infrastructure in Pakistan and foster collaboration with foreign research think tanks to expedite research on technology, digital rights, and AI, facilitating informed policies and strategies.
 General comment no. 34, Article 19, Freedoms of opinion and expression, UN. Human Rights Committee (102nd sess.:201:Geneva). Accessed at:

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.