November 5, 2019 - Comments Off on Pakistan ranked as “Not Free” by Freedom House in the 2019 Freedom on the Net Report for eight years in a row
Freedom House released its Freedom on the Net (FoTN) report for the year 2019, titled “The Crisis of Social Media” to reflect the plethora of issues emerging on social media. The report finds an overall decline in global internet freedom for the ninth consecutive year in 2019. It is noted that while “social media at times served as a level playing field for civic discussion, they are now tilting dangerously toward illiberalism, exposing citizens to an unprecedented crackdown on their fundamental freedoms.” The report focuses on developments that occurred between June 2018 till May 2019.
Pakistan’s ranking on the report remains “Not Free” for the coverage period, with its score decreasing from 27 to 26. Internet freedom declined during this report’s coverage period due to authorities’ increased blocking of political, social, and cultural websites. The general election environment in July 2018 saw connectivity restrictions and increased disinformation. Meanwhile, authorities upped their efforts to silence critical journalists and activists using a range of techniques. Users were again sentenced to death on charges of posting blasphemous content online, although their convictions are under appeal.
The report for Pakistan was authored by Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and evaluated through the methodology developed by Freedom House. The report methodology assesses 65 countries across the world, based on three broad criteria: obstacles to access; limits on content; and violations of user rights. Nighat Dad, the Executive Director of DRF, stated that “the score this year is the culmination of short-term and regressive policies by successive governments. Years worth of draconian legislation and investment in structures that stymie freedom of expression have led to an environment where the internet in Pakistan is more unsafe and less inclusive.”
Key developments during the coverage period include:
- Authorities shut down mobile and internet service during protests and in the lead-up to the July 2018 general elections, in both populous cities and less developed regions.
- Over 800,000 websites hosting political, religious, and social content remain blocked. Voice of America’s websites in Urdu and Pashto were temporary inaccessible during the coverage period, as was the website of the leftist Awami Workers Party.
- Inauthentic content and automated accounts impacted the online landscape. It emerged, for instance, that bots supporting various political parties surfaced ahead of the July 2018 general elections, while Facebook removed content it claimed to be linked to the Pakistani military’s public relations department.
- In December 2018, two brothers were sentenced to death for blasphemy, for allegedly sharing “disrespectful material” about the prophet Mohammad on their website in 2011.
- The government increased social media monitoring, announcing a new system to target extremism, hate speech, and anti-national content. The announcement came a month before the Interior Ministry launched an investigation into journalists and activists supporting murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi on social media.
- Activists and bloggers faced physical attacks and death threats during the coverage period, while several journalists were booked under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.
The full report can be accessed here. Pakistan’s country-specific report is available here: https://www.freedomonthenet.org/country/pakistan/freedom-on-the-net/2019.
Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Press Releases