Journalist unions, civil society seek revocation of social media rules

In this file photo, Pakistani pedestrians wait for transport as they stand in front of an advertisement for a cellular telephone in Rawalpindi on May 14, 2010. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2020

Journalist unions, civil society seek revocation of social media rules

  • Launch a nationwide movement against the new regulations to strengthen freedom of expression in Pakistan
  • Deny the impression that Internet is unregulated in the country

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), along with lawyers and civil society activists, declared the recently notified Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 “unacceptable” on Thursday, asking the government to revoke them immediately.

“The rules were approved by cabinet without any discussion or debate,” PFUJ Secretary General Nasir Zaidi said while addressing a joint news conference at the National Press Club Islamabad. “The clampdown of online content is the final extreme in a long series of restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom in Pakistan.”

He announced a plan of action, saying the PFUJ and its partner organizations had launched a countrywide protest against the enforcement of the rules. Other speakers at the gathering claimed that the new social media rules had posed a severe threat to freedom of expression, media independence, and Pakistan’s digital economy.

Harris Khalique, the secretary-general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told the gathering, “The HRCP believes that the rules issued by the federal cabinet are based on malicious intent. This is an unconstitutional and illegal step. These rules will violate the political, economic and cultural rights of Pakistani citizens. The rules should be de-notified immediately.”

Sadaf Khan, Co-founder of Media Matters for Democracy, said the claim being spread from official quarters that the Internet was unregulated in Pakistan was incorrect.

“We already have the anti-cybercrimes law to regulate online content as well as multiple laws for defamation and other online harms. These laws have been used quite regularly by the authorities,” she said. “The government must issue a clarification about the legal status of the new social media rules. We also demand that clarity should be provided about the consultation process being planned by the government.”

The federal cabinet had approved the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020 in January, after which the ministry of information technology had sent the rules to be published in the official gazette.

The new regulations demand social media companies to open local offices, establish local database servers, remove content identified by the Pakistani authorities, and provide decrypted user data on the request of law-enforcement agencies.

The Asia Internet Coalition, whose members include Facebook, Google, and Twitter, has informed the government that the rules can “severely cripple” Pakistan’s digital economy, making it difficult for Internet companies to offer their services to Pakistani users and businesses.

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have also condemned the social media rules.

Pakistani doctors will be unable to work sans safety gear — medics' representative

Updated 1 min 11 sec ago

Pakistani doctors will be unable to work sans safety gear — medics' representative

  • At least six doctors, paramedics’ staff in country’s hospitals tested positive for Covid-19: PMA
  • Last week, a 26 year old doctor died after contracting the disease after screening patients without proper PPE

KARACHI: Chief of Pakistan’s Medical Association (PMA) said on Saturday that medics at the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak might refuse to work unless provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), as at least six medical professionals in the country contracted the virus from patients.
Last week, Dr. Usama Riaz, a 26 year old doctor from Pakistan’s northern Gilgit Baltistan became the country’s first frontline casualty after contracting the coronavirus while screening pilgrims returning from Iran without appropriate PPE.
“The situation is very critical as a lack of protective gear is hampering the country’s war against the virus outbreak and the situation will become more complex next week amid increasing numbers of cases,” Dr. SM Qaiser Sajjad, secretary general of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) told Arab News.
“The number of cases in the country is rapidly growing and the doctors won’t be able to treat patients without protective kits,” he said.
By Saturday, over 1,400 people in Pakistan were confirmed to have the virus with at least 11 deaths. Eastern Punjab province is leading the tally of total cases with 497, followed by Sindh with a reported 457 cases.
Healthcare professionals have been critical of the lack of PPE needed to ensure their safety at the forefront of the country’s battle against the deadly virus, with some warning they won’t be continuing their work if not provided with appropriate safety equipment.
“Many doctors are calling us and saying they won't be able to provide services because their families are mounting pressure on them to stay at home,” Dr. Sajjad said.
“They want to work but government needs to provide them with PPE. If the doctors choose to sit at home, that would be the worst nightmare for this country,” he warned.
Provincial health officials could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.
Dr. Sajjad said that at Karachi’s Aga Khan University Hospital (AKU), the country’s leading private health care institution, three medical professionals had contracted the disease. Additionally, he said one doctor at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Islamabad had tested positive.
Dr. Sajjad also said two doctors in Punjab’s Dera Ghazi Khan had tested positive, as well as one doctor at Karachi’s Liaqat National Hospital.
AKU Hospital, the first private sector health care facility to screen and treat patients in the country has suspended its coronavirus testing for the time being, citing the “over capacity of patients.” The hospital spokesperson did not confirm how many members of its staff had contracted the virus.
Masooma Raza, AKU spokesperson, told Arab News the hospital was following the government’s guidelines for reducing footfall to ensure social distancing.
“To manage over capacity, our testing facility is temporarily unavailable but it will soon restart,” Raza said.
She said coronavirus patients were being treated at AKU but declined to share the number of patients admitted.
At Karachi’s Liaquat National Hospital (LNH), a doctor working at the Radiology Department tested positive after returning from a religious gathering in Raiwind, Lahore, according to LNH spokesperson, Anjum Rizvi. The spokesperson denied any other staff member had contracted the virus and said the infected doctor had been home-quarantined for 10 days.