QUETTA: The lawyers’ fraternity will stand by journalists in their struggle for a free media in the country, veteran lawyer Ali Ahmed Kurd said on Friday.

He was speaking at a press conference jointly held by the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Balochistan Bar Council, the High Court Bar Association, Balochistan, the Quetta Bar Association, Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Society, and the Media Matters for Democracy.

“The lawyers will as always stand up to violators of the constitution,” Mr Kurd assured journalists.

He said the powers that be were coming up with ideas to suppress social media because it gives voice to the poor.

Shahzada Zulfiqar, the PFUJ president, disapproved of the move to promulgate the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, terming it an attempt to stifle free speech and flow of ideas.

“The process of formulating these rules, their scope and the method of enforcement bode ill for press freedom, independence of the media and Pakistan’s digital economy,” Mr Zulfiqar added.

According to him, these rules violate the boundaries set by the parent legislation, the 2016 Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act.

“For example, the law does not have a section that calls for naming of a national coordinator to regulate social media,” Shahzada Zulfiqar observed. “Section 38 of PECA limits liability on service providers, but the latest rules lay down heavy punishment for service providers and even propose blocking of a site.”

The PFUJ chief said the social media rules had been framed without consultation. He expressed fears that the new law would give unfettered powers to the national coordinator’s office to censor content.

“As social media companies do not have branches and offices in Pakistan, the rules can lead to their complete blocking in this country.”

Moreover, he added, users would be bound to share with the authorities their personal data.

Habib Tahir, the HRCP president, said his organisation had opposed the rules because only parliament had the power to frame laws.

“The truth hardly comes out through the print and electronic media these days. This is why the authorities now want to curb social media, too,” he said.

Ayub Tareen, who heads the Balochistan Union of Journalists, called upon journalists and civil society activists to gather in front of the Balochistan Assembly on Monday (Feb 24) to record their outrage over curbs on the media.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2020

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