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

In this file photo, Pakistani journalists wearing protective facemasks report outside the Aga Khan University Hospital where a patient of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has been admitted in Karachi on Feb. 26, 2020. (AFP)
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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.”


Pakistan to resume middle school classes tomorrow despite rising COVID-19 infections

Updated 22 September 2020

Pakistan to resume middle school classes tomorrow despite rising COVID-19 infections

  • Dozens of educational institutions around the country were closed this week over violation of virus standard operating proce­dures and detection of new cases
  • Earlier this month, government announced it would allow the “phased” reopening of all educational institutions from September 15

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) on Tuesday said middle schools across the country would resume regular classes as scheduled from tomorrow, September 23, Radio Pakistan reported, despite coronavirus cases being detected in educational institutes around the country this past week.
Schools were closed in March when the government enforced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. Authorities started lifting strict curbs in May and last month allowed almost all businesses and the tourism sector to reopen.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani government announced it would be allowing the “phased” reopening of all educational institutions from September 15.
All higher educational institutions including universities, intermediate and professional colleges, reopened from September 15, while grades six through eighth grade were to reopen on September 23 and primary schools would resume classes from September 30.
Following the decision of the NCOC to resume middle school classes from Wednesday, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa officially announced that classes would start tomorrow. However, Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani said schools in the province would reopen on September 28.
Dozens of educational institutions around the country were closed this week over violation of standard operating proce­dures (SOPs) and detection of Covid-19 cases among students, teachers and other staff.
But Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said on Saturday that a hasty decision to close down schools again would “destroy education.”
“6 months closure deeply affected the students. Decision to open was taken with great care,” he wrote on Twitter. ” Any hasty decision to close will destroy education.”

The education minister of Punjab province, Murad Raas, said on Twitter:
“All Public & Private Schools will be allowed classes 6 through 8 starting September 23rd. It is imperative for everyone to follow SOPs ... All of us have to play our part to make this successful InshAllah.”