The Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020, believed the Federal Cabinet has approved secretly, have destined Pakistan to live without Internet freedom, citizens’ privacy and dream of digitalizing the country, Islamabad-based Freedom Network said.
“Such draconian rules in absence of demonstrated commitment to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of information are more threatening and these rules will not serve the citizen’s fundamental rights,” the civil liberties organization said 16 February 2020 in its Freedom Alert.
It added: “In the manner in which these rules have been prepared in a completely secretive manner, without taking stakeholders into confidence or holding any consultation as is the norm in civilized world and keeping Parliament, social media platforms and civil rights groups in the dark speak of mala fide intention of the government.”
Freedom Network joins other rights groups like IRADA, Digital Rights Foundation, Media Matters for Democracy and others in denouncing the rules and urges the government to adopt transparency while taking up such important issues concerning the public.
“The new rules are in conflict with the spirit of Article 14 (the right to privacy), Article 19 (freedom of speech) and Article 19A (the right to information) of the Constitution of Pakistan. They are also violating the principles of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Pakistan is a signatory to,” the Freedom Alert said.
Legal experts believe the rules go beyond the scope of the laws — the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organization) Act, 1996 (XVII of 1996), and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 (XL of 2016). For example, the rules set up office office of “national coordinator.” “There is no provision in the two laws,” media laws expert Muhammad Aftab Alam, who also heads Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), argued.
“Similarly, the responsibilities of the national coordinator and his powers to identify and designate the social media contents as harmful are both vague and arbitrary,” he told Freedom Network. “Concentrating too much power in the hands of a single individual without clearly laying down the definition of harmful contents is a dictatorial arrangement which goes against the letter and the spirit of a consultative parliamentary democracy that the Constitution of Pakistan provides for.”
As the state apparatus are misusing Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 by targeting journalists for their tweets and posts on social media platforms, the new rules would strengthen the state apparatus’ hands to muzzle the dissenting voices in the country as space for free speech has shrunk significantly in the last few years, the Freedom Alert read.
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