How is the Pakistani Government Encroaching on its Citizens’ Freedom of Speech?
By: Hephzibah Kaleem
News of Journalist Bilal Farooqi being detained in a jail in the southern city of Karachi, Pakistan was recently unveiled. Farooqi was captured by police officers in his own home on the night of September 11th and brought down to a police station with a dirty rag on his face preventing him from identifying the officers or his location.
He was told that the reason for his arrest was a tweet that castigated the Pakistani government and military’s actions that promoted the instigation of violence and ostracization of Shia Muslims. This arrest was made under Pakistan's Prevention of Electronic Crimes (PECA) law, which not only allows the government to monitor internet use, but it also gives them the power to restrict and censor content.
In recent years, PECA has been used to surveil journalists and activists to prevent the circulation of content that disagrees with the government or the military’s proposed laws or ideals.
Just this past month, the government passed an extension to PECA, stating that any criticism through online platforms of government or local office holders will be construed as criminal activity, that the government has the ability to ban social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as making it mandatory for all social networking sites to share their users’ decrypted data without any judicial supervision.
Adjustments were made to this plan on December first. The authorities revealed their plan to dismantle the criminality of criticizing the government, however also reinstated that provisions to surveil all activity are still in place and those that express explicit dissent will be arrested and detained.
This has led to significant technological companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook threatening to leave Pakistan if regulations are not modified.
In light of this, one of the biggest concerns of activist groups as well as the public is the requirement for tech companies to provide the government and law enforcement with their users’ decrypted data without warrants. These decryption rules put businesses of e-commerce and e-banking at risk as financial transactions will be unprotected. They also put companies like Facebook - which owns WhatsApp, an app used by a large majority of the Pakistani public - in a quandary, as they are being forced to break their own rules. Since Facebook, Google, and other large tech companies routinely fund emerging companies and help them conduct their business, losing them will drastically affect the economy.
In addition to that, all companies that fail to comply with these rules will have to pay fines of up to $3.14m. It is apparent that medium and small companies will not be able to pay these fines which not only induces failure without probable cause, but also shows the government’s disregard for small businesses.
Some legal experts have come forward claiming that these rules breach the Pakistani constitution which specifically outlines the freedom of speech and the invalidity of these rules as they are not passed by a parliamentary majority, rather are products of administrative decrees.
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
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