Families of Pakistani students in China fear for children's well-being

Pakistani students attend a class at Yanshan University in Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China Dec. 14, 2017. (Photo Courtesy: VCG Photo/File)
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Updated 15 March 2020

Families of Pakistani students in China fear for children's well-being

  • As coronavirus breaks out, foreign office says over 28000 Pakistani students are in China
  • The country’s embassy in Beijing has asked students to avoid unnecessary movement

ISLAMABAD: Families of Pakistanis living in China have expressed grave concern over the well-being of their loved ones due to the outbreak of coronavirus in different Chinese provinces.
“We are worried about the health of our daughter who is studying at Xiamen University since 2018,” Rawalpindi-based Zahoor Ahmad, father of Maham Zahoor who is pursuing her Master’s degree in international relations, told Arab News on Saturday. “I talked to her this morning and advised her to remain indoors and avoid unnecessary movement, especially to markets and other public places.”
The coronavirus, which emerged in December, has now spread to other countries, but the majority of cases and all 41 deaths have been reported in China.
The Chinese authorities shut down transportation from Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, hoping to contain the spread of virus, and have since expanded the lockdown to other cities, covering a total population of about 35 million.
The World Health Organization described the outbreak as an emergency for China, though it stopped short of declaring it as a public health emergency of international concern.
“There are approximately 28000 Pakistani students studying all over China, around 800 resident traders and around 1500 Pakistani traders who travel to China frequently. There are close to 500 students in Wuhan alone,” Foreign Office Spokesperson Aisha Farooqui said in a statement on Saturday.
She added that these numbers excluded those students, visitors and traders from Pakistan who were present in China without registering themselves with Pakistan’s diplomatic mission in Beijing.
The Pakistan mission also issued an advisory to Pakistanis living in China on January 24.
“The embassy urges Pakistani students to remain vigilant and adopt good personal hygiene practices such as those shared by the ministry of health of China through its advisory. Pakistani community members and students in Wuhan are advised to comply with the efforts of Chinese authorities and not leave the city without any particular reason,” the Pakistan embassy said in a statement, adding that the mission would continue to stay in touch with its nationals and students.
“There are around 800 Pakistani students in Wuhan, but many of them have gone to their country due to the Chinese new year holidays. We are facing problems as we have been asked to remain in our hostels. We are facing acute shortage of food as shops and restaurants are closed due to the blockade of the city,” Muhammad Atiq, who is doing PhD in Public Administration from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, told Arab News on phone from China.
Atiq added that his family in Pakistan was worried because Wuhan was deeply affected by the epidemic.
“The university promised to provide us special masks, but we haven’t received them yet as air traffic, railways and even taxi services are closed in the city. We even could not offer Friday prayers since all sorts of gatherings have been banned in the city,” he said.
A government school principal, Mumtaz Begum, from southern Punjab city of Bahawalpur, whose daughter Mahnoor Sajwar is studying in Peking University, Beijing, expressed her serious concerns for the health of her daughter while speaking to Arab News on the phone.
“I want her to come back to Pakistan, but she has her exams in a couple of months. I have asked her to remain inside her apartment, wear a mask and avoid going to public places. We all are praying for her health as the virus is spreading to the whole of China,” she said.
Sohail Shaukat, a Pakistani businessman from Karachi told Arab News that he used to visit China at least once in a month for his import and export business, but he decided to cancel his trip due to the outbreak.
Madah-ul-Mustafa, a student in South China University of Technology, Guanzhou, who landed in Multan Friday night, told Arab News that he was screened extensively by the airport authorities in Pakistan.
“I came back from China with my wife last night as we were unable to figure out how to deal with the outbreak. I have to go back on 8th February, but now I will assess the situation and then plan to return to the university,” Mustafa said.


Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict’ action against spread of COVID-19 'fake news'

Updated 16 July 2020

Pakistan interior minister orders ‘strict’ action against spread of COVID-19 'fake news'

  • Says all available resources would be used to identify people who spread misinformation
  • Rights activists fear new laws to curb coronavirus fake news could be used to clamp down on freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s minister for interior, Ijaz Ahmad Shah, on Thursday directed authorities to take “strict and immediate” action against those involved in spreading coronavirus misinformation, a week after the government announced plans to introduce new laws to curb COVID-19 “fake news” on social media.
Last week, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), a top federal body set up to oversee the government’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, set up a committee under the chairmanship of the interior minister to prepare a legal framework to help the government deal with coronavirus-related “fake news” on social media platforms.
“The Federal Minister for Interior, Ijaz Ahmad Shah directed the Director Cyber Wing, FIA to closely monitor and hold the responsible ones accountable for their actions,” the Ministry of Interior said in a statement released after Shah presided over a meeting on formulating a “COVID-19 Disinformation Prevention Mechanism.”
“He reinforced the point that strict and immediate action should be taken against these people. The Minister further said that people who are involved in such actions are not pro-country or its people.”
Shah said the primary purpose of the new committee was to ensure that “correct and credible information” was disseminated, adding that all available resources would be used to identify people who spread disinformation.
He also directed the head of Pakistan’s electronic media regulator not to allow “fake news” to run on TV channels.
Islamabad has previously struggled to regulate online content mostly by blocking or asking social media companies to remove blasphemous material and other posts that violate the country’s religious and cultural norms and laws, or hurt national security interests.
In February, the government approved, and then rolled back, new rules to regulate cyberspace after opponents said they could be used to stifle dissent. Social media companies have also largely shunned obliging to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful.
Rights activists and free media campaigners fear the government’s new coronavirus “fake news” mechanism could be used to clamp down on freedom of speech.
“This shady mechanism is going to have serious implications for the already squeezed freedom of press and expression in Pakistan,” Haroon Baloch, researcher and program manage at Bytes for All, told Arab News.
Baloch said disinformation on social media was a challenge but not a crime, unless it turned into “deep-fake” news that harmed individuals and groups.
“The government must ensure transparency in the so-called mechanism,” he said, “along with ensuring an oversight of civil society and free speech campaigners to prevent abuse.”