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Pakistan has been included in the list of countries with lowest score for “Freedom on the Net”.

The only countries that ranked below Pakistan included China, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Cuba, Uzbekistan and Bahrain.

The index is prepared by a Washington DC-based research firm called Freedom House.

In its “Freedom on the Net 2016” report, Freedom House said Pakistan scored 69 (with 0 as best and 100 as worst) for internet freedom.

It said that while internet freedom has been impacted with recently introduced cyber crime bill, the overall score remained unchanged due to opening up of YouTube and an increase in over-all internet penetration in the country.

Freedom House criticised Pakistani government for harsh punishments — through newly introduced cyber crime bill — for online speech.

According to the report, key developments for Pakistan from June 2015 till May 2016 included:

  • The National Assembly approved the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, including clauses which would enable censorship, surveillance, and rights violations.

  • In January 2016, YouTube was unblocked for the first time since 2012, redirecting users to a local version, YouTube PK

  • Antiterrorism courts sentenced two individuals to 13 years in prison each in separate cases involving charges of promoting religious or sectarian hatred on Facebook.

  • Investigators charged a man in Peshawar with violating “privacy of information” and “damage to information systems” based on Twitter posts he wrote about a judge’s relatives in September 2015

Obstacles to access

Freedom on Net report said that Pakistan’s internet penetration increased during last two years, thanks to the launch of 3G and 4G services in the country.

More reliable broadband internet on wired infrastructure, however, remains a distant dream in the country as only urban areas are covered through wired networks, that too with deteriorating media.

The report said a large number of people — mostly in remote areas — lack broadband access and they depend on slow dial-up connections or EDGE, an early mobile internet technology.

It said that while 3G and 4G networks are making inroads, rollouts are slow as telecom operators are focusing more on urban and high revenue generating areas while leaving out rural or less populated spaces.

In such areas, meaningful online activity like multimedia training can be challenging, the report said.

It said several parts of western areas of Pakistan lack internet access, partly because of underdevelopment and partly because of ongoing conflict.

The report further emphasises that while internet access is gradually increasing among girls and women, online harassment has discouraged the utilisation of ICTs by women, especially those under 30.

It said that fingerprint registration for obtaining data SIMs has worried the activists who rely on anonymous internet access.

Restrictions on connectivity

Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) controls the country’s largest internet exchange point, Pakistan Internet Exchange (PIE), which has three main nodes — in Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore — and 42 smaller nodes nationwide.

PIE operated the nation’s sole internet backbone until 2009, when additional bandwidth was offered by TransWorld Associates on its private fiber-optic cable, TW1.

PTCL also controls access to the three international undersea fiber-optic cables: SEA-ME-WE 3 and SEA-ME-WE 4 connect Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe; and I-ME-WE links India, the Middle East and Western Europe.

The company signed an agreement to build the fourth cable, considered to be one of the world’s largest, in 2014.

The AAE-1 cable, projected to be completed by the end of 2016, will connect countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

With strong outbound bandwidth links, internal cable cuts — due to terrorism or natural disasters — lead to internet shut downs in limited areas.

Moreover, as in previous years, Pakistan faced electricity shortages during the reported period, especially when demand peaked during the summer months, leading to internet down times for individuals across the country.

Cellular suspensions, during religious and political sensitivities, remained a bottleneck for the citizens who were cut from internet on multiple occasions.

ICT market

According to the report there are over 50 ISPs in Pakistan, 10 of which provide DSL services.

It said that the government regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), exerts significant control over internet and mobile providers through a bureaucratic process that includes hefty licensing fees.

Additionally, after 2014, there are 3G and 4G operators that provide internet connectivity in the country. Although so far limited to urban centers, mobile companies report that they are rapidly expanding the networks.

Internet cafes do not require a license to operate, and opening one is relatively easy. Child rights groups have argued that cafes should be regulated to prevent inappropriate access to pornography and gambling sites.

Limits on Content

According to Telecom Policy 2015, PTA is now the in-charge for blocking any content on the internet.

PTA is mandated to monitor and manage content including any blasphemous and pornographic material in conflict with the principles of Islamic way of life as reflected in the Objectives Resolution and Article 31 of the Constitution.

The regulator can itself decide to either ban or not to ban content. Anyone can write to PTA to file a complaint on content that’s objectionable, based on following reasons:

  • If content blasphemous in nature
  • If content is against national interests of Pakistan
  • or if content is obscene in nature

According to Freedom on Net Report 2016, critics believe these issues can serve as cover for politically motivated censorship of dissenting voices. Information perceived as damaging to the image of the military or top politicians, for example, is also targeted.

The report highlights that the whole process for blocking content is not transparent and that there are no published guidelines outlining why content is blocked or how to appeal if something is blocked.

It said that it didn’t find any URL-level blocking or any instances of app-blocking during the reported duration.

Media, diversity, and content manipulation

Despite existing limitations on online content — and looming new ones — Pakistanis have open access to international news organisations and other independent media, as well as a range of websites representing Pakistani political parties, local civil society groups, and international human rights organisations.

ICTs, particularly mobile phones, promote social mobilisation. After YouTube was unblocked, all social networking, blogging, and VoIP applications were available and widely used during the coverage period.

The report, however, said that most online commentators exercise a degree of self-censorship when writing on topics such as religion, blasphemy, separatist movements, and women’s and LGBTI rights.

Access the Freedom on Net report for Pakistan here.

This article originally appeared on ProPakistani and has been reproduced with permission.


Comments (72) Closed



Tahzeeb ul hassan Nov 17, 2016 03:54pm

agreed

Khan Nov 17, 2016 03:58pm

We are OK with it..No problem. We don't want uncontrolled internet.In fact on some contents, still we need to be put some control which should be in line of our religion & society guidelines.

Alba Nov 17, 2016 04:01pm

China should not be included. Go to ChinaSmack.com and see for yourself. When American TV shows, such as Desperate Housewives, were banned in China enterprising Chinese, especially students, watched the programs on their computers. The Chinese have ways to circumvent authority. ChinaSmack was banned, and hacking by DOS attacks several times but the Beijing government just could not shut it down, and finally gave up trying to keep people from looking at it and commenting on news articles and criticizing the government. Now it is a popular moneymaking website.

M.Saeed Nov 17, 2016 04:01pm

Highly dubious study!

majid Nov 17, 2016 04:09pm

We need to review / revisit cyber crime bill

RASHID P Nov 17, 2016 04:11pm

My observation :- Last 10 countries are either Islamic or communist,

The end is near Nov 17, 2016 04:12pm

Everything has become worst in these three years. The so-called progress.

Basit Ali Nov 17, 2016 04:13pm

@Khan Religion never said dont use internet did it?

SR Nov 17, 2016 04:19pm

@Khan Who is "WE". How can you talk on behalf of others? Everyone has a right to their views just like you ....

Bitter truth Nov 17, 2016 04:31pm

You have a knife use it for chooping vegetables or harm some one it depends upon user . So like web can be good or bad it depends how we use it.

iqbal Nov 17, 2016 04:32pm

India has blocked out access to internet in occupied Kashmir and still ranks high... says a lot about credibility of it

TBH Nov 17, 2016 04:40pm

@iqbal "India has blocked out access to internet in occupied Kashmir and still ranks high... says a lot about credibility of it"

India has 1.25 bn people so will not be judgesld entirely by what's happening in Kashmir.

In coming months and years there will be more disappointment as India is likely to rank higher in many rankings and rightly so.

ozzy Nov 17, 2016 04:52pm

@Basit Ali where did he say that?, he said block content thats against islam. Leanr the dofferemce

ozzy Nov 17, 2016 04:54pm

@SR who are the "others" , how come you get to speak on the behalf of others?.

PM Nov 17, 2016 04:55pm

@iqbal : In India, people have access of Internet in rural areas also (both in mobile and broadband). Thats why India is in higher ranking. Also India could be in more higher ranking if it withdraws ban on some porn sites and torrent sites.

M. Emad Nov 17, 2016 05:07pm

2016 Internet Freedom Ranking (lowest to highest freedom): Pakistan (69), Bangladesh (56), India (41).

ADNAN KHAN Nov 17, 2016 05:08pm

@TBH RIGHTLY SAID BECAUSE 'KASHMIR' IS NOT THE INTEGRAL PART OF INDIA.

Hasnain Nov 17, 2016 05:09pm

Watching the stats, I think we got 38 points just by blocking porn sites ......!

Bangla_First Nov 17, 2016 05:14pm

Bangladesh is ahead of Pakistan in all the indexes

OSO Nov 17, 2016 05:21pm

There is a famous saying from a famous person.....Take off freedom, either Religious or social or anything else, it'll destruct by itself.

ASif Nov 17, 2016 05:34pm

Why do we need indorsement for everything from West? Every country has a right to protect it's policies, it's people, it's culture. If we have put some restrictions on a few websites which does not do anything good, what is the big deal? If we prosecuted a few individuals promoting hatered, what is the fuss about?

M. Siddique Nov 17, 2016 06:04pm

The Pakistani leaders don't want their crimes being talked about on the internet so they passed laws against it.

M. Siddique Nov 17, 2016 06:07pm

@Khan, Wake up. World is using internet to move forward. You are trying to cover up your own lack of properly educating your children by controlling internet. Get a life.

LOVE PAKISTAN Nov 17, 2016 06:14pm

For a country like us where people love to misuse and abuse the freedom I believe that this much internet freedom is more than enough for us.

sajed syed Nov 17, 2016 06:19pm

@Khan , I agree with you bro,

Naveen Nov 17, 2016 06:26pm

@ADNAN KHAN How well you understood it. Clearly the need for better e-learning in Pakistan.

Feroz Nov 17, 2016 06:39pm

Except for Pakistan scraping the bottom, most South Asian countries have good scores. Why is Pakistan scraping the bottom on every rating list ? Citizens need to wake up from slumber and force the change they want to see. Blaming X Y Z or the government is no use because it is the extreme apathy of citizens and lack of initiative which is responsible.

Kashif Iqbal Nov 17, 2016 06:43pm

@ozzy and that will solve the problems?

Pune-India Nov 17, 2016 06:45pm

India is on the better position...because almost all Young Indians are smart phone users, internet users and their account due to FB and Whats up

Pune-India Nov 17, 2016 06:47pm

@iqbal: Kashmir valley is very tiny in front of 1.2 billion internet user Indians...

Mohammad Ayub Nov 17, 2016 07:00pm

The ranking is meaningless. It all depends on who is ranking.

Khan Nov 17, 2016 07:44pm

@Basit Ali Yes, Religion provides the perfect way of life and keep balance in everything. What the study is suggesting that there should not be any restriction, which is I feel is not correct.

M.Saeed Nov 17, 2016 07:45pm

@Bangla_First : Including terror!

Khan Nov 17, 2016 07:48pm

@M. Siddique Please be careful..this is not about study contents..they want uncontrolled internet use which i am against. There should be proper control/regulation and monitoring.

M.Saeed Nov 17, 2016 07:47pm

@Pune-India : Even the population of Indian Occupied Kashmir is included in the 1.2 billion Indians because India calls it it's Attot-Ang.

M.Saeed Nov 17, 2016 07:51pm

These is all hoax analyses because, according to these surveys, Pakistan is world's number one pornsite visting nation and still it is supposed to be proscribed to use those sites! Cannot be true on any account.

Bystander Nov 17, 2016 07:58pm

Let everything aside and at the first place let it be clear whether complete internet freedom is any good thing or otherwise. All that is above national interests is intolerable at all the costs.

M.Saeed Nov 17, 2016 08:11pm

@M. Emad : This freedom is panacea of all terror-ills swiftly engulfing Bangladesh which was once the world's safest nation on crime-count.

Salman Sheikh Nov 17, 2016 08:36pm

We Pakistani don't have problem about freedom of internet , we are happy with that GOVT restrict few websites which are not good for our kids and against our Culture !

Karachitee Nov 17, 2016 08:43pm

Not sure what "things" have been restricted on internet which is useful for public.

Sued Nov 17, 2016 08:52pm

Lies and more lies,you can be charged for a Facebook post in India,and Internet by nature is free you cannot control Internet

sana-1 Nov 17, 2016 08:59pm

China is on the last but does that makes a difference? Pakistan is 69, ok so? why are we affected by so called surveys and this and that? some people are happy so let them be, they are taking out of NSG thing on this we have to understand....

Sameer Nov 17, 2016 09:09pm

The cyber crime bill by PMLN was nothing more than having legal hold on the masses. Those who control the flow of information; control power.

Next stop, enforced DTH conversion...show the people what you want them to see by heavily regulating the media.

Mani Nov 17, 2016 09:10pm

@khan You can't speak for everybody.

Kashif Iqbal Nov 17, 2016 09:10pm

@Khan There was no internet when the religion was made

ozzy Nov 17, 2016 09:14pm

@M. Siddique how about u actually read first what he says. Who said ban somethung in education. He said ban those things which are bad for the people. Your smart enough to know what we mean by that.

hamza khan Nov 17, 2016 09:19pm

im ok with this. limiting dangerous and harmful parts of the internet is not a bad thing. we dont need the west to lecture us about this.

hamza khan Nov 17, 2016 09:19pm

@TBH we'll see ab0ut that.

hamza khan Nov 17, 2016 09:21pm

@Bangla_First good for you. you have more poverty than us too and more social problems. fix those.

sana-1 Nov 17, 2016 09:31pm

@Bangla_First So? should we give sweets? Bangladesh is also ahead in ISIS threat improve that as well...

AzAd kAshMir Nov 17, 2016 09:32pm

@TBH right. Rank high for poverty and number of people without access to sanitation

sana-1 Nov 17, 2016 09:44pm

@TBH We Pakistanis, believe us, doesn't even give a cent to your progress.... you will get a high rank good for you, but till then, live on earth not in NASA station...

Mukul Nov 17, 2016 10:27pm

@RASHID P Good point- that is where the problem lies

Mukul Nov 17, 2016 10:27pm

@iqbal sure Iqbal

JSR Nov 17, 2016 10:33pm

CPEC will resolve this.

Raja Islam Nov 17, 2016 10:37pm

@RASHID P Commonality is repression and intolerance.

Mudassar Nov 17, 2016 10:57pm

without doubt, there is more than enough access to every useful information on internet in Pakistan, either its related to education, entertainment, current affairs or religion. etc. Only obscene or immoral content is blocked which is good and appreciable. it is sometimes disappointing to note that Reports by institution with international reputation do not present actual facts and report is only issued based on facts which are not consistent with local dynamics of a society.

jansi from France Nov 17, 2016 11:08pm

@RASHID P Both are authoritarian and have a problem with freedom.

gknatarajan Nov 17, 2016 11:23pm

not surprised.

Munz Nov 17, 2016 11:25pm

Interesting study! But UAE should be a little higher on the list. Whatsapp, Facetime, etc are all banned in UAE!

Aftab Nov 17, 2016 11:46pm

We should launch our own internet and social networking sites. Pakistan have enough brains available. We have created our own atomic bomb.

Masoud Nov 18, 2016 12:23am

Pakistan is doing fine with internet policy. Family values cannot be compromised. Don't want to destroy our youths.

Ghaznavi Nov 18, 2016 12:40am

and India ranks higher with its complete Internet black out in Kashmir valley. This report is farce

Umair Arshad Nov 18, 2016 01:03am

We are happy with the restraints.

Ghaznavi Nov 18, 2016 01:15am

@TBH "India has 1.25 bn people so will not be judgesld entirely by what's happening in Kashmir. ..."

How much can you rub on your nations unsustainable population! How is it okay to deprive millions of people their liberties just beacuse of this fact!

SAK Nov 18, 2016 02:27am

This shows why Pakistan's will never open there mind to learn and build a great nation.

Syed Nov 18, 2016 02:51am

Many users in the country (like Pakistan) utilise it for entertainment and pleasure such as watching videos on YouTube and playing games not to mention Pornography unhealthy cultures have spread within the society and influenced people, especially teenagers and children they're obsessed with games, watching videos, and chatting on the Internet not caring that it is affecting their education and causing them to become lazy in other spheres of their life or in fulfilling their Islamic or family responsibilities. If this is the freedom yall yapping about then we are better off without it.

Dawn Nov 18, 2016 03:41am

I would not take this as negative. Relegious, Cultural and Social Norms must be considered.

Puthomadre, karachi Nov 18, 2016 05:51am

Ranking in top ten is not bad at all.

Murtaza Nov 18, 2016 07:37am

@sana-1 Bangladesh has 31.3 billion dollar foreign reserve and Pakistan 22 billion so don't teach us what has to be done

Raza Nov 18, 2016 07:54am

@ASif it is spelled endorsement not indorsment, Sir. If you want to use the language of west to express yourself.... ! Get that right. Or use your mother tongue ...

Shan Nov 19, 2016 07:35pm

Pakistan ranks worst in almost every category. Thanks too fake degrees and stolen money.