Journalists, lawyers, rights bodies to resist move against social media

Published February 21, 2020
Bodies put forward demands at a press conference at National Press Club on Thursday. — AFP/File
Bodies put forward demands at a press conference at National Press Club on Thursday. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: As the clamour against the government’s move to regulate social media becomes louder, the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), lawyers and civil society members have decided to launch a nationwide movement for getting the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules revoked.

Journalist unions, lawyers, and civil society organisations termed the recently notified rules unacceptable and urged the government to revoke these immediately and hold consultations over the regulation.

The demands were put forward at a press conference at National Press Club here on Thursday.

Representatives from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Islamabad High Court Bar Association and Media Matters for Democracy atte­nded the press conference.

Nasir Zaidi, PFUJ’s secretary general, read out a joint statement contending that the rules exceeded the mandate given by the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act.

“The rules [to regulate social media] were approved by the cabinet without any debate,” Mr Zaidi said. “The clampdown on online content is the final extreme in a long series of restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom in Pakistan.”

He outlined a “plan of action” thrashed out by the PFUJ, in concert with the three “partner organisations”, to launch a countrywide drive against enforcement of the rules.

“Press conferences will be held at press clubs in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta,” Mr Zaidi said. A national conference will be held at Islamabad’s press club on Feb 27 to work out a joint declaration on social media regulation.

Speakers at the press conference said the proposed social media rules posed a severe threat to freedom of expression, media independence, and the country’s digital economy.

Harris Khalique, the HRCP secretary general, said the rules framed by the federal cabinet were based on “malicious intent”.

The speakers said rights guaranteed by the Constit­ution should form the basis for any law regarding social media.

The Asia Internet Coalition, whose members include Facebook, Google and Twitter, has said the rules can “severely cripple” Pakistan’s digital economy and make it difficult for internet companies to offer their services to Pakistanis.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders have also condemned the rules.

A number of senior journalists, including M. Ziauddin and Hamid Mir, spoke on the occasion.

Sadaf Khan, co-founder of Media Matters For Dem­ocracy, said claims being spread by official quarters that internet was unregulated in this country were incorrect.

At the same time, the speakers welcomed a statement by the prime minister that the government would hold consultations with all stakeholders before enforcing the rules, but insisted that the proposed rules be de-notified.

Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2020

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