PAKISTAN: Government uses brutal tactics to infringe Freedoms of Press and Expression

The Pakistan Government has failed to improve its pattern of muzzling the Press and overall civic space. It is under the leadership of cricketing superstar/turned politician, Imran Khan. The Authorities have been using the same old abusive techniques with the State agencies. In the previous military and civilian regimes they criminalized the critics of the incumbent Government and prints and electronic media. Imran Khan, who promised to build a ‘new Pakistan’, is apparently standing against the Freedom of the Press and the Freedom of Expression and the Freedom of Opinion.

Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights rejected attempt to regulate Web TV amid local and global backlash

The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) drafted a regulation in January 2020 to impose restrictions on the contents of Digital Media. It includes Web Television and Over-the-Top TV in the country. This attempt of PEMRA created fear among the web broadcasters. It triggered a wider criticism about the exercise of freedom of expression. Global, social networking giants, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter also joined the campaign against the sweeping regulatory control being imposed in Pakistan.

In early February, the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights found that the PEMRA had “no jurisdiction” and was “tantamount to going beyond its mandate and in contravention of Article 19” of the Constitution of Pakistan. Thus, the Committee rejected PEMRA’s move, according to Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who chairs the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights.

Government’s continued campaign in blocking online contents using the excuse of religious and national held security views

The government of Pakistan tirelessly tries to restrain freedom of expression by making repeated efforts, one after another. On 28 January 2020, the Cabinet of the Federal Government approved “Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020”. As reported, this Law requires all social media companies such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Tik Tok to register within three months and establish their offices in Islamabad. The Law compels the companies to create a data server in Pakistan within a year. It empowers the Government to block any account or prevent or remove any content that “violates or affects the religious, cultural, ethnic or national security sensitivities of Pakistan” and is “involved in spreading of fake news or defamation”.

The Government claims that the rules are designed to protect citizens from online fraud by discouraging Social Media companies from publishing prohibited content. The country’s Information and Technology Ministry failed to take the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology into its confidence regarding the matter. The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology reportedly sought clarifications from the Ministry for such failure. The Ministry’s move, bypassing the Senate Standing Committee on Information and Technology, exposes the authorities’ ultimate INTENT of stifling the voice of the people. Following the approval at the Federal Cabinet, the Rules had already been in effect since March 2020.

Federal Investigation Agency uses ‘terrorism’ charge against exiled Journalist to stifle his critical voice

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan on 11 February 2020 threatened in a statement that it would register a Court Case against exiled Journalist, Gul Bukhari. It would come under under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act-2016 (PECA) and the Anti-Terrorism Act-1997 IF he fails to appear before them within 30 days for an ‘inquiry’. The FIA also threatened that it would seek extradition of Gun Bukhari from the United Kingdom to Pakistan through Interpol, and could seize any property that the journalist owns in Pakistan.

The Government of Pakistan has reportedly sent a letter to the British Government referring to British Public Order Act 1986 and the UK’s Terrorism Act of 2006. It accused Gul Bukhari of ‘false anti-Pakistan propaganda’. The letter insists the British Government “stop the inimical activities” of Gul Bukhari on social media. They ask the UK government to hold Gul Bukhari “accountable as per law of the land for exploiting freedom of expression, using abusive language and indulging in hate speech”.

Government bans advertisings in two News Outlets and shuts down Geo TV Broadcasts

The Federal Government of Pakistan and the Provincial Governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab have suspended Government advertisements to The Dawn and The Jang Media Groups. They are two major national news outlets that publish their prints and online editions. The Government released the suspension of advertisements to the Media Houses as of January 2020.

The Dawn Media Group has seven units comprising the following: 1. an Urdu language television channel- Dawn News, 2. the English newspaper The Dawn, 3. monthly publications including the Herald, 4. Spider, 5. Aurora, 6. Web Site, 7. the Radio Station City FM 89.

The Jang Media Group has eight dailies and two weekly magazines. They include the Urdu-language GEO News, several newspapers such as the Urdu Daily Jang, the English The News International. And–it is about to launch an FM radio channel.

Needless to say, the governmental ban on advertisements is exerting a tremendous, negative influence on business as a whole in Pakistan. The reason? It encompasses both financial and socio-political impacts on the Freedoms of the Press and Society.

The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) strongly condemned the governmental ban on the advertisements in its Executive Committee meeting held on 27 February 2020. The APNS Executive Committee adopted a “unanimous resolution strongly condemning the policy of the Federal and Provincial Governments of Punjab and KPK to deny the release of their advertisements to two of the country’s major Media Houses, namely the Dawn Group and the Jang Group. The resolution states that the Executive Committee had three considered opinions. First: the ban on the two media groups (not only intended to curb the freedom of the Press). Second: the use of advertisements as a lever to influence newspapers’ editorial policies. Third: the silencing of any dissenting voice in the Press. The resolution further states that the Executive Committee of the APNS completely stands by the Dawn and Jang Media Groups. It urges the Federal and Provincial Governments “to immediately review their policy and restore the release of advertisements to these publications.

The Pakistan Herald Publications (PHP) Limited on 27 February 2020 filed a petition in the Sindh High Court challenging the withholding of the advertisements by the Federal Government. The petition argues that “[T]he placement of advertisements in the print media and its distribution among various newspapers is not a largesse that the [Government] can bestow on whomsoever they desire for whatsoever reason”. It added this: “the Government, instead of acting indiscriminately and in accordance with a rational policy, is denying advertisements to the Dawn Group, an ex-facie violation of the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 4, 9, 18, 19 and 25 of the Constitution,”

On 13 March 2020 the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) ordered the cable operators across the country to “change Geo’s position” on TV channel numbers. Such “shifting the channel to the last numbers means essentially shutting down its broadcast”. This is according to Geo News’ Director, Rana Jawad, who explained the matter to the Media. Rana Jawad said that similar instructions were given to the main cable operator in Islamabad. NO legal basis was provided for the action.

The brutal tactics being used by the Government of Pakistan clearly indicate a consistent pattern of negative action. It is a pattern, which infringes on the dissidents lives, by curtailing their freedom of expression and their freedom of the press, even beyond its national boundaries.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-005-2020
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Administration of justice, Civil and Political Rights, Democracy, Freedom of expression, Rule of law,