Sat, 18 Sep 2021

Islamabad [Pakistan], July 30 (ANI): Despite being a democratic state, Pakistan continues to suppress free speech in digital spaces, stopping its citizens from participating in the working of the state by depriving them of a resourceful channel for vocalizing their concerns.

An opinion piece in The Pakistan Daily said that at a time when the world is experiencing a rapid digital revolution, digital rights seem to be jeopardised in Pakistan by the state, which does not permit its people to hold deliberations and highlight verbally the pitfalls of the state.

Writer Mehmil Khalid cites an assessment report 'Pakistan Freedom of Expression Report 2020' by Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) to say that the country performed poorly in all the indicators that determine free speech and that the covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated the digital censorship in Pakistan.

Pakistan scored 30 points out of 100 on the assessment report t Index, which analysts say proves the fact that the government has placed curbs on free speech and disallowed people to talk especially about the pandemic and the related information.

A bill passed recently from the parliament gave Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) wide-ranging powers that it misuses sometimes under the garb of blocking "objectionable content" that is associated with religion and politics.

This has utterly disturbed digital and internet users who depend on the government for releasing their online freedom and permit them to disseminate useful information.

According to an estimate, there were 76.38 million internet users in Pakistan in January 2020 and their number increased by 11 million (17 per cent) between 2019 and 2020. This shows how heavily the amount of internet users is rising which also calls for the need of their free online working, reported The Pakistan Daily.

In the age of digitization and fast-track globalisation, Pakistani internet users face serious threats and intimidation for talking about something that criticizes the government and its agencies, says Khalid.

The smooth trajectory towards digitisation and acquiring free speech is impeded by stringent cyber-security laws, online bullying, strict oversight of media content, and the lack of awareness among the citizens of their rights.

Internet users, particularly the ones who are running an organization or working through a platform for securing digital rights are often harassed and threatened to change their course who otherwise get blocked, reported The Pakistan Daily.

Meanwhile, experts have noted that in Pakistan, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) usually bans and orders the citizens to exercise self-restraint on topics related to religious and political discourse.

People who remain adamant about their views are met with penalties and blocking their content from their online platforms.

The uncontrolled and unchecked powers of PTA have paved the way for serious lack of information even on important issues that profoundly remain hidden from the public, writes Khalid.

Rights activists maintain that in order to promote digitisation the government should revisit its policy on content regulation and ensure the provision of digital rights to its citizens without any stern oversight that threatens their freedom of speech and expression.

The censorship imposed by the state clearly affects social media users, telecommunication authorities and freedom of the press that creates hindrances for democracy to flourish.

It is also found that when issuing the legislation, there exists a strong disconnection between policymakers and the stakeholders mainly in the private sphere that leads to producing critics call an irrelevant, unjustifiable piece that is not acceptable to a variety of public. (ANI)

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