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.