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Pakistan ranks among the 10 worst countries on a study of internet freedom across the world, said a global survey released on Thursday.
The Freedom on the Internet 2014 report by Freedom House, which has been conducting annual surveys since 1980, found that Pakistan had slipped yet another spot on the index – falling from the 11-worst in 2013 to 10th this year.
The index calculates the internet freedom scores for 65 countries globally based on three criteria: obstacles to internet access, limits placed on internet content, and violations of internet user rights.
With an average internet freedom score of 69, the country fell one rank from its previous 11th position and a score of 67 (100=least free, 0=most free).
“Pervasive and increased government control on the internet whether in form of censorship or with new surveillance tactics, is limiting freedom of expression and amplifying self-censorship among the internet users in Pakistan,” said Nighat Daad of the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF).
“The dangerous trend of introducing draconian and repressive laws to limit the civil liberties in the online space is only an effort to block political dissent and diverse opinions. The Pakistani government should understand that increased internet censorship and data surveillance can only turn this democratic state into a repressive regime,” she added.
Pakistan continued its gradual fall during the past four years from its score of 55 and 13th rank from the bottom in 2011.
The study shows that violations of Pakistani internet users’ rights have been rapidly increasing over the past four years.
This steep decline in user rights experience stemmed mostly from religious intolerance, says the report, which was prepared in collaboration with DRF in Pakistan.
Four women were killed by male family members in rural areas of Pakistan, one for possessing a mobile phone, and three for featuring in a video circulating on community mobile networks.
Three men were murdered for being gay by a man who used social media to identify their sexual orientation.
Blasphemy charges for digital content spiked in Punjab
In April 2014, a judge in Punjab sentenced a Christian couple to death for blasphemy in relation to a text message they deny sending.
Lawyer Rashid Rehman was shot dead on May 7 after receiving threats for representing a professor jailed on charge of committing blasphemy on Facebook.
The Pakistan Protection Ordinance 2013 categorized unspecified “internet offenses” as terrorism, with suspects subject to arbitrary detention.
According to the report, limitations on content remained relatively unchanged since last year, with no signs of improvement.
Popular video-sharing website YouTube remained blocked on government orders since September 2012. The status of a plan to launch a local version of the site censoring objectionable content also remained in doubt.
Authorities newly blocked film details referencing Baloch independence and a gay community website.
Citizen Lab researchers found Netsweeper technology automatically blocking political and social content on Pakistan’s largest ISP.
—Produced by Sajjad Haider