“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” This is the opening sentence of George Orwell’s 1984 and reading this again, I can’t help but smirk.
When I first read about a new cybercrime bill being drafted, I thought to myself:
Wow, the leaders actually care about all the misdemeanour that takes place on the internet in this country; perhaps there will be no more online money fraud and cyber-bullying can finally be monitored and prevented.
Turns out, the bill, if passed, will be doing the bullying.
The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015 was approved by a National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology on Thursday.
Only one member opposed the bill, only some aspects of it anyway.
And now, while it waits before the parliament, we wait, biting our nails, thinking about how the next time I voice my opinions on how the government is failing our people or share a meme about a politician, I might find myself in jail or with a fine I will never have the money to pay off.
So in order to not find myself caged, I must clip my own wings?
When a country’s leadership feels threatened by opinion and humour, isn’t it clear where the problem lies? Is it really for the authorities to decide which of the people's many interpretations is inappropriate or immoral?
Apparently, this bill doesn’t just apply to social media and the internet, you can be considered a cyber terrorist based on your personal conversations on text messages as well.
Remember when we used to reference Orwell’s 1984 and say “Big Brother is watching you”, in a tongue-in-cheek manner? It is not tongue-in-cheek anymore. Considering how the bill mentions that political criticism will be criminalised, perhaps the use of this phrase too will be considered a cybercrime.
Take a look: Rights groups join hands to protest cyber-crime bill
We, as a nation, have been dealing with troubling times since as far back as I can remember. Clamping down on open discourse in conditions like ours is the worst idea, because if nothing else, it helps relieve the awaam of the immense frustration and confusion they are always trapped inside of.
Satire, humour, criticism have been our most potent weapons and perhaps our only real weapons against the state for decades, if not centuries. Certain songs that question politicians and society became anthems for the masses.
“Zehen-i-ghulami say kaash ho hum azaad” is a phrase from one of Junoon’s most popular songs from their second album.
It is the little things, like knowing you are not alone, that help you through hard times. After all these years, will censorship at this point in Pakistan’s growth as a nation really help the government? Or will the pent-up frustration force us to seek more drastic measures to make our voices heard?
We are already tipped with frustration and chaos to a point where violence erupts over the petty issues. We need to be heard more, not less.
To end with, here is another apt quote from 1984 to illustrate what we are being put through:
“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”