Slammed by global tech giants, Pakistan to revisit Internet censorship rules

In this file photo, an IT professional browses Facebook in Lahore on May 27, 2010. (AFP)
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Updated 01 March 2020

Slammed by global tech giants, Pakistan to revisit Internet censorship rules

  • Facebook, Twitter and Google threatened to leave Pakistan if new social media rules not revised
  • New regulations aimed to control hate speech and content against national security, official says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government will review its sweeping rules on Internet censorship released earlier this month, officials said, after the unveiling led to an uproar from global Internet companies and criticism from local civil libertarians that the regulations violated freedom of speech.
Earlier this week, through a group called the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), global tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google warned Prime Minister Imran Khan in a scathing letter that they would leave the country and its 70 million Internet users in a digital lurch if the new rules remained as written and were not revised. 
In response to the public outcry, the government constituted a four-member committee and officials pledged this week they would review the new rules in consultation with segments of civil society, tech companies and journalists, and would find new consensus on regulating Pakistan’s digital media content. 
“The new rules will ensure complete transparency and freedom of expression, and we are having our first meeting on Monday over the issue,” Dr. Arslan Khalid, the Prime Minister’s focal person on digital media, and a member of the new committee, told Arab News on Saturday. 
“We cannot leave social media unregulated to spread hate speech and harm our national security,” Khalid said, but added: “The government doesn’t intend to stifle freedom of expression either.”
In 2018, Prime Minister Imran Khan assumed office in Pakistan in huge part on the back of his party’s social media presence and popularity online, but his government has shown little tolerance for criticism of the state and its institutions since coming to power.
Pakistani government’s requests for removal of content from global social media sites Facebook, Google and Twitter have vastly increased in the last two years, according to the companies’ transparency reports that are available online. Last year, hundreds of thousands of websites were additionally blocked by the government to censor blasphemy, criticism of the state, pornography and other material.
But in the absence of any law of data protection in Pakistan or local rules regulating social networking platforms, the government has had a hard time getting compliance from global companies.
Under the government’s new regulations, known as the “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020,” social media companies would have to remove or block any ‘unlawful content’ from their websites within 24 hours after being reported by a government officer known as the national coordinator.
Additionally, the companies are required to set up permanent offices in Islamabad, and set up servers to store data in the country. In case a social media company fails to abide by the provision of these rules, it can be blocked entirely, face a penalty of over $3 million or both.
Firdous Ashiq Awan, Pakistan’s de facto information minister said this month the rules were introduced to protect the country’s social, cultural and religious values, and officials have denied the regulations are aimed at curbing freedom of expression.
But information technology experts say the new rules have the potential to cripple the country’s digital economy as Pakistani users and businesses face the risk of isolation from the growth potential of the Internet economy.
“The government should immediately de-notify these rules,” Badar Khushnood, an IT expert who has worked for Facebook and Twitter, told Arab News. 
“The existing rules are a stumbling block to our freelancers and online businesses that are helping the country fight unemployment and bring in foreign exchange.”
Journalists’ bodies have also rejected the rules, saying they are meant to curb freedom of expression guaranteed in the constitution.
“We cannot accept these draconian rules,” Afzal Butt, former Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, told Arab News. “The government wants to stifle the freedom of speech and press under their garb.”


Pakistan’s religion ministry holds annual conference with focus on ‘promotion of unity’

Updated 18 October 2021

Pakistan’s religion ministry holds annual conference with focus on ‘promotion of unity’

  • Conference is part of celebrations for Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
  • The conference has been held annually by Ministry of Religious Affairs since 1976

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s 46th National Rehmatul Lil Aalameen Conference kicked off in the federal capital today, Monday, as part of celebrations for the upcoming Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Rabi Al-Awwal is the third month in the Islamic calendar. The month holds special significance for Muslims around the world as they observe the 12th of the month as Mawlid Al-Nabi, the birth day of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Last week, Prime Minister urged the nation to celebrate next week’s birth anniversary in an “unprecedented manner” this year.
“The two-day conference titled ‘Role of Masjid, Madaris, Khanqas and Imambargahs for the promotion of unity and harmony in the light of teachings of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),’ would conclude on Tuesday,” state-run APP news agency said on Monday. “National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser would be the chief guest on the inaugural day of the conference.”
The second day, Tuesday, would have sessions presided over by President Dr Arif Alvi and PM Khan.
The conference has been held as the annual event of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony since 1976.
“The conference aimed at highlighting the soft image of Islam would disseminate the teachings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) and also encourage the [Muslim] authors by giving them awards on outstanding books and research papers written on the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH),” APP said.
“People from all walks of life, including Parliamentarians, ambassadors, Ulema, scholars, students of religious seminaries, universities, deans of universities and representatives of chambers of commerce and industry will attend the moot.”


IMF, Pakistan resume talks today for release of $1 billion loan tranche

Updated 18 October 2021

IMF, Pakistan resume talks today for release of $1 billion loan tranche

  • Finance ministry says negotiations ‘moving forward positively’
  • Denies media reports that talks had concluded last week in ‘failure’

ISLAMABAD: Talks between Pakistani officials and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are “moving forward positively” and will form the basis for the completion of the 6th review of a $6 billion loan program, the Pakistan ministry of finance has said, adding that talks would resume today, Monday.
In 2019, Pakistan reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy. Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in a fresh round of talks for the release of a $1 billion tranche of the loan.
Five reviews of the program had been completed by March. The sixth is pending since June this year, which, if completed, will enable Pakistan to receive around $1 billion from the fund.
“Fund and Pakistani authorities will resume the talks on Monday [October 18, 2021] from where they were left on Friday,” Muzzamil Aslam, spokesperson for the finance ministry, said in a statement on Sunday. “There is no truth in the news of talks’ failure.”
Negotiations between Pakistan and the IMF are being led by secretary finance division, Yusuf Khan, in Washington, and are “moving forward positively,” the statement said: “No timeframe was set at any stage for conclusion of the talks. The negotiations with the IMF will continue till the successful conclusion.”

Pakistan's Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin (L) arrives in New York ahead of meeting with IMF on October 16, 2021. (Ministry of Finance)

The clarifications from the finance ministry came after local media reported that talks between the fund and Pakistan had concluded on Friday and failed.
Experts said talks may have stalled due to the government’s resistance to the IMF’s demand to increase energy prices even further. A hike of Rs 1.39 per unit was announced last week.
Pakistani Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin has been a staunch opponent of power tariff hikes and personal taxes but has showed some flexibility in recent weeks.
“The other stumbling block is the IMF’s insistence to increase the revenue generation target close to Rs 500 billion in addition to the revenue collection target of Rs 5.8 trillion,” Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), told Arab News. “This would not be an easy decision to take by the political government under current circumstances.”


Pakistan records lowest daily coronavirus infections since June 

Updated 18 October 2021

Pakistan records lowest daily coronavirus infections since June 

  • Pakistan has administered total of 93,551,193 doses of COVID vaccines so far
  • That’s enough to have vaccinated about 21.6 percent of the country’s population

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan reported 663 new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours, the lowest number of COVID-19 cases recorded in a single day since June, health ministry data showed on Monday.
The South Asian country has reported 1,265,047 infections and 28,280 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began. The government has administered a total of at least 93,551,193 doses of COVID vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs two doses, that’s enough to have vaccinated about 21.6 percent of the country’s population.
Official data shows 1,913 patient are admitted in critical care across the country.


On Sunday, Pakistan’s pandemic response body rejected as ‘fake’ a video on social media showing children were reacting adversely to vaccines.



In the last week of September, Pakistan announced it would begin to vaccinate children aged 12 or above.

 


Father suspected of killing two daughters, four grandchildren in Pakistan marriage feud

Updated 18 October 2021

Father suspected of killing two daughters, four grandchildren in Pakistan marriage feud

  • Manzoor Hussain hunted by police after allegedly setting fire to home of sisters Fauzia Bibi and Khurshid Mai in Muzaffargargh district
  • Bibi married Mehboob Ahmad against her father's will in a so-called love marriage, Mai's husband also died in blaze

LAHORE: A father in Pakistan is suspected of killing his two daughters and their four children by setting their house ablaze because one of the women married against his wishes, police said.
Manzoor Hussain is being hunted by police after allegedly setting fire to the home that sisters Fauzia Bibi and Khurshid Mai shared in a village in the Muzaffargargh district of central Pakistan, police official Abdul Majeed told Reuters by phone.
Mai’s husband also died in the blaze, Majeed said.
Bibi had married Mehboob Ahmad about 18 months ago against her father’s will in a so-called love marriage, according to the official, as opposed to an arranged marriage.
“The incident is outcome of the rivalry between the two families over the love marriage,” Majeed said.
Hussain, the father being searched for, lives in a nearby village, he added.
Bibi’s husband Ahmad told police he was not at home at the time of the fire and had found the house ablaze when he returned from work early in the morning, according to his statement to officers, which was seen by Reuters.
Ahmad said his four-month-old son had died, along with Mai’s three children aged two, six and 13.
Hundreds of women in Pakistan are killed by relatives every year for marrying without consent, or against their family’s wishes, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.


Pakistan fails to strike agreement with IMF for release of $1 billion loan tranche

Updated 17 October 2021

Pakistan fails to strike agreement with IMF for release of $1 billion loan tranche

  • Pakistan reached an accord with IMF for three-year, $6 billion bailout package in 2019
  • Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in fresh around of staff-level talks in Washington

ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan have failed to strike a staff-level agreement under a $6 billion Extended Fund Facility, or bailout package, Pakistani media reported on Sunday. 
In 2019, Pakistan reached an accord with the International Monetary Fund for a three-year, $6 billion bailout package aimed at shoring up fragile public finances and strengthening a slowing economy.
Pakistani and IMF officials are currently engaged in a fresh round of talks from October 4 to 15 for the release of a $1 billion tranche of the loan.
“The talks failed despite Pakistan having implemented a prior condition of increasing electricity and petroleum products prices,” the Express Tribune newspaper reported. “However, both sides have shown resolve to remain engaged.”
“The IMF team remains engaged with our Pakistani counterparts on moving forward our work agenda and we are looking forward to our continued discussions with the Pakistani authorities on the set of policies and reforms that could form the basis for the completion of the 6th review under the EFF,” Teresa Dabán Sanchez, the outgoing resident representative of the IMF, told The Express Tribune.
This is the second time Pakistan and the IMF could not find “basis for the completion of the 6th review.,” The first attempt was made in June.