DIGITAL PAKISTAN MONITOR – July 2020

A monthly report on trends relating to digital rights, policies, practices & media

Tracking: Internet and digital policies and regulations

Digitalization in governance and socio-economic domains

Digital rights violations and protections

Digital rights advocacy and defense

Digital media and online free speech

Vol. 1, No. 7 July 2020 Edition

Produced by Freedom Network – www.fnpk.org

SECTION 1: Internet and digital policies and regulations

  • Federal and provincial governments (ministries and departments)
  • Internet regulators
  • Media regulators
  • Telecom regulators
  • Internet access / connectivity

Lack of internet access to students for online education

Date: July 1, 2020 – Source: Media Matters for Democracy

Media Matters for Democracy is deeply concerned at the situation where students, particularly from the non-mainstream areas of Pakistan, are facing infrastructural challenges in attending online classes which are now made mandatory by the Higher Education Commission.

5G ecosystem will boost growth and connectivity in Pakistan

Date: July 12, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa, while speaking at the SAMENA Telecommunications Council Leaders’ Summit, said that Pakistan’s 5G ecosystem will serve as the bedrock of improved connectivity and sustainable socio-economic growth in the country.

3G, 4G services promised to far-flung areas

Date: July 16, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Syed Aminul Haque has announced that 3G and 4G services will be provided soon to far-flung areas of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Senate body wants internet issues resolved in remote areas

Date: July 17, 2020 – Source: Dawn

A Senate committee while discussing the issue of poor or lack of internet connectivity in various parts of the country called for a comprehensive strategy and planning to ensure education facilities to all students with limited resources and technological facilities.

China-Pakistan Fiber Optic Project: leading project of digital connectivity between the two countries

Date: July 20, 2020 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: The Nation, Source 3: Technology Times

The China-Pakistan Fiber Optic Project, the major project of digital connectivity between the two countries, has become operational. This project is considered to be the backbone of digital connectivity and is important for information technology exchange between China and Pakistan.

Non-cooperation may lead to ban on social media, gaming websites, warns PTA

Date: July 28, 2020 – Source: ARY News

Chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Major General (retd) Amir Azeem warned of shutting down websites of social media and online gaming platforms in the country over non-cooperation of the concerned companies.

Prime Minister orders internet connectivity facility in remote areas

Date: July 29, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Newsweek Pakistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday directed officials concerned with ensuring provision of internet facilities with widespread coverage in Pakistan’s remote areas, especially Balochistan, the areas formerly known as FATA, and Sindh.

SECTION 2: Digital rights advocacy and defense

  • Pakistan-based citizens and civil society organizations
  • Independent international digital rights organizations
  • UN and global multilateral organizations
  • Governmental and other sources

Digital Rights Foundation helpline releases annual statistics

Date: July 4, 2020 – Source: The News

The trends of online harassment made part of the Cyber Harassment Helpline’s Annual Report for the year 2019. The helpline received 855 complaints related to WhatsApp hacking attacks. After messaging apps, they received the most complaints regarding social media applications.

Internet rules in Pakistan: Regulation or strangulation?

Date: July 11, 2020 – Source: Sujag

In a nutshell, it can be convincingly argued that the restrictions on VPNs are meant to stave off the ‘crime’ of political dissent since it will be almost impossible to use a government-approved VPN for anything other than business and commerce.

Media Matters for Democracy expresses concerns over the continued suspension of online services

Date: July 24, 2020 – Source: Media Matters for Democracy

Media Matters for Democracy expresses concern over the continued attempts to overregulate the Internet, and arbitrarily block platforms and mobile phone applications including but not limited to PUBG, TikTok, and Bigo Live based on vague and subjective terms such as ‘obscenity and decency’.

SECTION 3: Digital rights violations and protections

  • Citizens and netizens – including case studies
  • Media, journalists and other information practitioners
  • Online free speech
  • Online access to information
  • Privacy violations
  • Data protection
  • Surveillance
  • Misinformation / disinformation / fake news
  • Cybercrime

PUBG game suspension challenged in Islamabad High Court

Date: July 5, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

The countrywide suspension of Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) – an online game – was challenged in Islamabad High Court.

Policy against harassment, cyberbullying in schools soon

Date: July 9, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

The Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority had constituted the School Education Reforms Committee to plug policy gaps on harassment in educational institutions apart from the lack of implementation existing frameworks.

Police seek social media jurisdiction

Date: July 10, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

The Lahore police have approached the government for delegation of powers to the Counter-Terrorism Department and district police for initiation of legal action against instigators of criminal offences and sectarian violence through social media.

Only 14 cybercrime convictions in five years

Date: July 20, 2020 – Source: Express Triune

The Ministry of Interior’s revelation before the National Assembly that cybercrime cases were on the rise and the authorities concerned could manage to convict only 14 accused in the last five years evidently depicts that justice moves at a snail’s pace in Pakistan.

Live streaming application Bigo banned in Pakistan

Date: July 21, 2020 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: South Asia Monitor

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority banned live streaming application Bigo and issued a final warning to video-sharing service TikTok over obscene and immoral content on its platforms

Cleric remanded in judicial custody in hate speech case

Date: July 22, 2020 – Source: Dawn

A judicial magistrate at Model Town Courts has sent Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rassool Allah Pakistan Chief Dr Asif Ashraf Jalali on judicial remand in a case relating to hate speech.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority urged to reconsider action against TikTok, Bigo

Date: July 22, 2020 – Source: Dawn

While the government is clamping down on ‘immoral’ content online, digital rights experts and social media users have termed the recent bans on digital applications a threat to creative expression by youths who are otherwise devoid of entertainment.

Minister for Science and Technology says it is not advisable to ban applications

Date: July 23, 2020 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Arab News

Pakistan’s Science Minister Fawad Ahmed Chaudhry has advised the country’s telecommunications regulator against blanket bans on social media applications and suggested regulations instead that would help the technology industry grow.

Supreme Court hints at YouTube ban over objectionable content

Date: July 23, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Islamabad Post

The Supreme Court has hinted at banning YouTube in Pakistan. The court objected to unregulated content on social media, particularly comments regarding the judiciary, the armed forces and the government.

Information control

Date: July 23, 2020 – Source: The News

A study on regulation of online information by Bolo Bhi, a media rights and advocacy group, has traced the history of efforts to prevent citizens from accessing knowledge with the setting up of the inter-ministerial committee for the evaluation of websites and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes law in 2016.

Maligning social media

Date: July 23, 2020 – Source: The News

The attempts to control the flow of information over the internet are in some ways disturbing. Yet, hate speech, fake news of some kind and other offensive material does need to be controlled.

Artists condemn possible YouTube ban

Date: July 24, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Gulf News

Pakistani artists have reacted with shock to the news of a possible an on YouTube in the country. They have condemned the idea and have insisted that such bans are not a tenet of a progressive society.

Islamabad High Court rescinds Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ban on PUBG game

Date: July 25, 2020 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune, Source 3: The Nation

The Islamabad High Court declared the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s move to temporarily suspend online game Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) void and directed the authority to immediately remove the ban.

Final arguments sought in US blogger’s plea

Date: July 26, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

A sessions court in Islamabad sought final arguments from the counsels of former premier Yousaf Raza Gilani and ex-interior minister Rehman Malik in the next hearing on an application by US blogger Cynthia Dawn Ritchie seeking registration of a case against the latter.

Hero and Villain on the digisphere: The man who wanted to be both

Date: July 26, 2020 – Source: Dawn

Farhan Virk’s name became synonymous with trolling and fake identities peddling nationalist propaganda on Pakistan’s social media scene. A recent documentary casts new light on the banned Twitter celebrity and Pakistan’s changing Twittersphere.

Regulating information and communications technology

Date: July 26, 2020 – Source: Dawn

While we seem interested in developing the digital economy, Pakistan’s ‘strategic interests’ are repeatedly at odds with such ambitions. This year, we have seen renewed efforts to stifle digital platforms.

Minister booked over social media activist’s murder

Date: July 27, 2020 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Pakistan Today, Source 3: South Asia Monitor

The Levies Force registered a case against provincial Minister for Food and Population Welfare Sardar Abdul Rehman Khan Khetran and his guards over the murder of a social media activist, Anwar Jan Khetran.

Curbs on YouTube content proposed

Date: July 28, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

A parliamentary body has recommended restricting content on video-sharing website YouTube and PUBG – an online game – rather than imposing a complete ban on them.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority unbans PUBG, Bigo

Date: July 31, 2020 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: The News, Source 3: Express Tribune

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority decided to lift the ban on the online game Player Unknown’s Battle Ground (PUBG) and live streaming application Bigo after meeting with representatives of both companies.

US logger sends legal notices to nine Pakistan People’s Party leaders, seeks damages

Date: July 30, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

American blogger Cynthia Dawn Ritchie sent legal notices to nine Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leaders seeking Rs250 billion in damages. She maintains that the legal notices had been sent over fake applications, defamation on social media and threats hurled by PPP leaders.

SECTION 4: Digitalization

  • Digitalization in governance sectors / e-governance
  • Digitalization in social and development sectors
  • Digitalization in business and commercial sectors

Supporting community through digital solutions amid pandemic

Date: July 4, 2020 – Source: The News

From the platform of Fatima Jinnah Women University, Pakistan, Dr. Aneela Maqsood (Head of Behavioral Sciences Department) initiated and led a volunteer campaign in alliance with a team of volunteers national and international health professionals to devise digital solutions.

Federal Board of Revenue asks retailers to deploy online invoicing system

Date: July 4, 2020 – Source: The News

The Federal Board of Revenue extended the deadline for big retailers to report sales on real-time to the tax authority by two months and avail concessionary tax rate in line with the government’s ambition to hook 15,000 logs by yearend.

Colleges under Federal Directorate of Education to commence online classes

Date: July 6, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

The colleges under the Federal Directorate of Education will start online classes up to undergraduate level from July 7 – a decision resented by a number of teachers who believe that the academics should first be provided training to teach through modern technological means.

Federal capital’s teachers apprehensive of online classes

Date: July 6, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Teachers at the government-administered colleges in the federal capital have voiced their apprehension of online classes, which are set to commence from this week.

Covid-19 boosts digital economy, e-commerce

Date: July 8, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Pakistan’s e-commerce and digital economy has received a huge sales boost during the current coronavirus pandemic as physical mobility of shoppers has remained limited.

Startups hit hardest by pandemic

Date: July 8, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

The rising economic uncertainty amid the Covid-19 outbreak is posing a significant threat to start-ups across the globe, making it imperative for governments and relevant stakeholder organizations to move quickly and help small businesses survive.

Online portal to receive public complaints in Balochistan

Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan Alyani has directed the authorities concerned to set up an online portal on a trial basis to receive public complaints regarding the performance of government agencies.

Punjab develops IT solution to wheat monitoring problem

Date: July 9, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

The Punjab government is pivoting towards a digital solution to strengthen its wheat monitoring and regulation mechanism, and to prevent hoarding and price gouging.

People urged to buy sacrificial animals online

Date: July 10, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Daily Times

The relevant authorities are encouraging people to buy sacrificial animals online or at least wear masks when visiting cattle markets, fearing preparations for Eid-ul-Azha could reverse the decline in Covid-19 infection numbers.

Coronavirus pandemic: A catalyst for digital health solutions

Date: July 11, 2020 – Source: Dawn

Digital health applications that help find nearby doctors, offer home consultations, order medicines, and even help find blood donors, were rolled out rapidly post-spread of Covid-19.

UK-based investors eye health startups in Pakistan

Date: July 12, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

VM Interactive, a UK-based digital technology company, has invested $250,000 in seed funding in Pakistan’s health-tech ecosystem through an indigenous start-up in the country.

Abdul Wali Khan University launches online classes in affiliated colleges

Date: July 13, 2020 – Source: The News

Vice-Chancellor Abdul Wali Khan University-Mardan Prof. Dr. Zahoor ul Haq launched online classes in private affiliated colleges soon after successfully starting online classes at the university.

President emphasizes on Pakistan’s digital potential

Date: July 16, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Pakistan Today

President Dr Arif Alvi has said that Pakistan has immense potential in the field of digital economy and digital education and stressed the importance of fast data communication modes to explore vast opportunities in such areas.

Pandemic promoted virtual learning

Date: July 18, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Experts see the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity and emphasized for adapting to change and pay immediate attention on improving technological infrastructure accordingly to avail the opportunities that post-pandemic world offers in the field of learning and development.

Habib University holds first virtual convocation

Date: July 20, 2020 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune

As educational institutions remain closed amid the coronavirus pandemic, universities across the country have shifted their classes online. But in a first, Habib University went virtual for its convocation ceremony, awarding degrees to 185 students.

Virtual session on challenges in social sciences organized by Quaid-e-Azam University

Date: July 20, 2020 – Source: The News

Collaborative efforts were emphasized to strengthen social sciences in Pakistan during a virtual session on the topic of ‘Social Sciences in Pakistan: Challenges, Prospects, and Opportunities’ which was organized by Quaid-i-Azam Alumni Association Pakistan.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to set up digital city in Haripur

Date: July 20, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Technology Times

The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial government has started fencing off land in the Eastern district of Haripur to build the country’s first-ever digital city.

President terms e-commerce promotion vital for economy

Date: July 21, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: The Nation

President Dr Arif Alvi has urged that promotion of e-commerce was highly essential for strengthening economy of the country as it provided access to distant markets, reduced cost of doing business and created employment opportunities.

Prime Minister Imran Khan ninth most followed world leader on Twitter

Date: July 22, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: The News

Prime Minister Imran Khan has become the ninth most-followed world leader on Twitter, according to a study by Twiplomacy, with his account seeing a 22% growth in the number of his followers.

Online purchase of sacrificial animals’ booms

Date: July 22, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Press Reader

Online purchase of sacrificial animals is booming in Pakistan this year compared to the previous year. A major chunk of the population across all major cities of Pakistan has shown preference for home delivery of sacrificial animals to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus.

TikTok says ‘positive in-application environment’ its priority

Date: July 23, 2020 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Newsweek Pakistan

TikTok, a China-owned short-form mobile video platform, has responded to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s final warning over ‘obscene’ content, saying the company’s topmost priority was to maintain ‘a safe and positive in-app environment’.

Information technology sector generates $3b revenue per year in Pakistan

Date: July 25, 2020 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: The Nation

Advisor to Prime Minister on Commerce and Investment Abdul Razak Dawood has revealed that Pakistan’s information technology (IT) sector is generating revenue of approximately $3 billion annually.

Pakistani software creates easy interface to set up online business

Date: July 26, 2020 – Source: Dawn

Webx.pk, a Karachi-based digital solutions firm, has created an interface that assists businesses to set up online operations in minutes.

Engaging students online

Date: July 26, 2020 – Source: Dawn

In the past five months, faculty and educational administrations have been in a state of panic. Amidst an almost-apocalyptic scenario has emerged a dire need for innovative teaching techniques, whereby higher educational institutions can continue to deliver their course programs online.

Online sale of sacrificial animals increases manifold

Date: July 27, 2020 – Source: The News

Given the coronavirus pandemic, the trend of online buying of sacrificial animals has increased manifold among the residents especially belonging to the upper strata of the society.

Overseas Employment Corporation’s portal registers 50,000 expelled expats

Date: July 28, 2020 – Source: The Nation

More than 50,000 Pakistani workers, who have lost their overseas jobs in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, have registered themselves with the Overseas Employment Corporation’s portal in search of job opportunities, training in modern skills and financial assistance.

Sindh digitizes medicine supply chain

Date: July 29, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Sindh has become the first province in Pakistan to introduce a web-based health logistic management information system for keeping track of medicine stocks at government hospitals- from primary care health facilities to teaching hospitals- across all districts.

More IT-driven start-ups needed to boost productivity

Date: July 29, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Poverty-stricken and resource-deficient Pakistan needs to develop more IT-driven start-ups to engage youth for productivity.

SC takes notice of non-provision of video link facilities in National Accountability Bureau courts

Date: July 29, 2020 – Source 1: The Frontier Post, Source 2: Express Tribune, Source 3: The News

The Supreme Court took strong exception to non-compliance of its order regarding linking National Accountability Bureau courts and detention centers through video link to avoid delays in trials.

Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to set up online portals to help builders

Date: July 31, 2020 – Source: Express Tribune

Chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan, the National Coordination Committee on Housing, Development and Construction announced that the respective provincial governments of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa would set up online portals to streamline associated processes and assist builders.

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OBJECTIVES: This series of monthly report aims to:

  • Track developments revolving around the framework of digitalization in Pakistan including policy and advocacy on digital rights, policy enforcements and digital rights violations, covering viewpoints of government, civil society, human rights community including digital rights campaigners, media, citizen journalists and other information practitioners, and regulators of electronic media, internet and telecom sectors, and netizens.
  • Monitor the interface between digital rights and Pakistan’s overall legal framework and how developments around them impact freedom of expression and access to information online as well as diversity and pluralism in Pakistan’s digital landscape, cyberspace and internet domains.
  • Follow developments around the themes of digital rights, freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, surveillance, data protection, access to internet services, telecom policies, etc.

INFORMATION SOURCES: This report monitors, among others, the following sources of information:

  • Government: Federal and provincial cabinets
  • Ministries: Related ministries, including Information and Broadcasting, Information Technology (IT) and Telecom, Human Rights, Science and Technology, Commerce and Industry, etc.
  • Legislatures: Senate, National Assembly, provincial assemblies, relevant standing committees
  • Regulators: Pakistan telecommunications Authority (PTA), Pakistan Electronic Media regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Press Council of Pakistan (PPC), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), etc.
  • Global organizations: UN/Unesco, International Media Support (IMS), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), etc.
  • National organizations: Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), BoloBhi, Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), etc.
  • Media: Dawn, The News, Express Tribune, The Nation, Pakistan Today, The Friday Times, etc.
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Local networks: Journalists Safety Hubs Network, Alliance on Diversity & Pluralism in Media, etc.
  • Research groups: Gallup Pakistan, IPSOS Pakistan, etc.
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