PBC, SCBA express concern over social media regulation

Published February 15, 2020
The Pakistan Bar Council is of the view that the scope of the rules goes way beyond the parent legislation. — Dawn/File
The Pakistan Bar Council is of the view that the scope of the rules goes way beyond the parent legislation. — Dawn/File

ISLAMABAD: The top bodies representing the legal fraternity expressed concern on Friday over reports that the government is weighing a set of proposals that seek to gag the media and curtail freedom of expression and digital rights of citizens online.

Abid Saqi, the Pakistan Bar Council’s (PBC) vice chairman, and Syed Qalb-e-Hassan, the Supreme Court Bar Association’s (SCBA) president, said the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 were meant to control social media. The rules were made in a secretive manner and without consultations with stakeholders like the legal fraternity, the media and civil rights groups, Mr Saqi and Mr Hassan said.

Abid Saqi said the PBC believed the proposed rules, prima facie, seek to curb online free speech, invade privacy of citizens and restrict their access to information. “The proposals are not only in conflict with the spirit of Articles 14, 19 and 19A of the Constitution but also against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Pakistan is a signatory,” he added.

The Pakistan Bar Council is of the view that the scope of the rules goes way beyond the parent legislation — the Pakistan Telecommunication (Reor­ganisation) Act, 1996 (XVII of 1996) and the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 (XL of 2016), the vice chairman said.

Vague definitions, the non-representative nature of the proposed office of “national coordinator” and arbitrariness in its proposed decision-making process reflect the government’s “malicious intent” behind this action, Abid Saqi alleged.

“The PBC is concerned that just like the Electronic Crimes Act, which was trumpeted as a law to prevent electronic crimes, but is actually being used to curb free expression online, the rules regarding social media clearly aim at enabling the state to exert more control on online content and communication between social media users instead of protecting citizens against online harm,” he said.

The PBC vice chairman said requiring social media platforms to register themselves, set up local offices and servers and adhere to local laws would ultimately result in massive online censorship of cyberspace. “Therefore, the PBC rejects the proposed draconian regulations aimed at hampering social media platforms where over 60 million Pakistanis exercise their constitutional right to freedom of expression under Article 19 and the right to information under Article 19-A.”

The Bar Council called upon the government to reverse these draconian rules as such measures hurt the nation in the guise of regulation of social media discourse.

The PBC urged all political parties represented in the Senate, National Assembly and the provincial assemblies to resist these proposals.

Otherwise, the nation’s enforced silence will extend to people’s representatives sitting in parliament, the media as well as the bar and the bench.

Qalb-e-Hassan, the Supreme Court Bar Association’s president, lambasted the government for its “undue and unjustified restrictions” upon the press outlets.

“The SCBA is of the firm belief that there is no concept of real democracy without free and fair functioning of media as it always plays a pivotal role and is considered to be the fourth pillar of state,” he said.

The role of Pemra since the assumption of office by the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf is debatable and questions about its neutrality are undermining it, Mr Hassan added.

Prohibitions on the press and the electronic media stop intellectual growth and harm society, Qalb-e-Hassan observed.

“The legal fraternity will resist any attempt to snatch the right to freedom of speech, which is fundamental right guaranteed in our constitution,” the SCBA president said.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2020

Opinion

Informal sector
04 Mar 2021

Informal sector

Pakistan’s black economy is linked to governance.
The game is on
Updated 03 Mar 2021

The game is on

The PDM appears much more confident despite the fact that it is lacking in numbers.

Editorial

04 Mar 2021

Senate upset

THE Senate election results have delivered a stunning blow to the PTI. While the ruling party has seen an increase ...
04 Mar 2021

ME ‘security pact’

THERE has been an overflowing of bonhomie between the Gulf Arabs and Israel over the past few months, much of it...
04 Mar 2021

Students’ protest

A GROUP of university students in Karachi and Hyderabad caught the media’s attention when they announced a...
Vaccine challenges
Updated 03 Mar 2021

Vaccine challenges

THE last few months have seen several countries rolling out vaccination drives against the novel coronavirus, which...
03 Mar 2021

Rising prices

CONTRARY to government projections and market expectations, the cost of goods and services for the public during...
03 Mar 2021

Myanmar crisis

THE political crisis triggered by the military coup in Myanmar on Feb 1 is worsening, with the generals refusing to...