ISLAMABAD: Civil society members on Friday opposed government moves aimed at curbing freedom of speech.

Speaking at a roundtable ‘Beyond the firewall: freedom of speech in a censored democracy’ organised by the Jinnah Institute, the speakers decried the process of framing laws that gave extraordinary powers to the government.

Hassan Akbar and Ali Dayan of the institute said making such laws was a dangerous move against freedom of speech.

“Laws to control hate speech are being used in other spheres of life,” Ali Dayan said.

He referred to several actions by Pemra, including banning of anchor Hamza Ali Abbasi, even prior to hearing him.

Tahira Abdullah, Haroon Baloch of an NGO, Bytes for All, and other speakers criticised the cyber crime bill currently under discussion at the Senate standing committee on information technology.

They said the law empowered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to frame charges against almost everybody.

“This law is against several UN charters that Pakistan has signed to ensure freedom of expression,” said Tahira Abdullah.

However, Senator Farhatullah Babar said there was a need for a cyber crime bill and other laws. But he stressed the need for a balance between freedom of expression and government powers.

Some other speakers, including TV anchor Asma Sheerazi, said interference by the authorities had gone beyond the legal purview and the electronic media was already facing strong censorship.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2016

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