AT last, Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan’s assurance to the Islamabad High Court in January, that the government is prepared to review the controversial Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2020, has been fulfilled — in part. An inter-ministerial committee has been formed following the AG’s recommendation to the prime minister that “further and broad based consultations were required for framing of comprehensive rules for regulation of social media which protect the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and right to information as envisaged under Articles 19 and 19-A … while also ensuring that social media platforms are not abused and material is not disseminated in violation of laws”. It is to submit a report of its recommendations within 30 days. Perhaps with the human rights minister at the helm of the review committee, Pakistanis can hope for a better outcome — one that is premised on upholding the rights of citizens over arbitrary and excessive expansion of the powers of the state. Indeed, the attorney general admitting that it was a mistake to not involve relevant stakeholders in the process is a welcome acknowledgement. However, there are still valid reasons to remain wary.

For one, according to Media Matters for Democracy, the petitioners who are challenging the constitutionality of the rules in court objected in a hearing on April 1 to the ‘one-sided’ composition of the review committee. While the government has given assurances that all stakeholders’ feedback will be taken into account, we have heard this many times before, from both the incumbent and previous government — and consistently been let down. Last year’s ‘consultative’ processes on the new rules amounted to eyewash. Including relevant stakeholder representatives within the committee itself can help to repair damaged trust and lend the process much-needed legitimacy. Even more critically, however, is that any meaningful consultation would lead to only one logical conclusion, one that has been voiced repeatedly by rights groups and digital experts — that Pakistan’s current digital governance structure is fundamentally antithetical to a free and open internet in which citizens’ rights are affirmed and digital innovation and commerce are allowed to flourish. Addressing this would require not only scrapping the new rules in their entirety, but drastically overhauling the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016. Is the government prepared to listen to its people and see such a process through?

Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2021

Opinion

Let women be, control the man
Updated 11 Apr 2021

Let women be, control the man

Men need to be educated and then read the riot act. The enforcement of the law must be merciless in such cases.
Twixt torch & tray
11 Apr 2021

Twixt torch & tray

Some may say that the lawyers’ indignation is not without merit.
Behaviour bond
10 Apr 2021

Behaviour bond

States have turned the imitation of repressive laws into an art form...

Editorial

11 Apr 2021

Dissension within PTI

WITH the dust from the PDM’s implosion still not fully settled, the PTI is now faced with growing dissension from...
11 Apr 2021

Power to arrest

A SUPREME Court verdict announced on Thursday spelled out what might be considered a self-evident truth in any...
11 Apr 2021

Unequal vaccine distribution

IT is in times of crisis that we often see the best — or worst — of humanity. In this regard, the pandemic has...
10 Apr 2021

Greater tax burden

THE FBR’s tax target of Rs6tr for the next year under the IMF-mandated fiscal adjustment policies will increase ...
UK travel ban
Updated 10 Apr 2021

UK travel ban

Pakistan continued to allow passengers to arrive without quarantine requirements.
10 Apr 2021

IS in Mozambique

IT was not too long ago when the dreaded shock troops of the self-declared Islamic State group were rampaging ...