Daughter Of Baloch Missing Person Facing Death Threats For Seeking Father's Recovery

Daughter Of Baloch Missing Person Facing Death Threats For Seeking Father's Recovery
If she could walk in the streets with dignity and physical security and use online spaces without fear, she would have lived her life in peace as a Pakistani citizen.

"I feel unsafe while using social media. This feeling of unease arose when days back, I was approached by an individual pretending to be a United Nations (UN) representative on WhatsApp and Twitter, asking me to register myself on a portal as UN-Watch advocate in Balochistan. He later hacked my account and threatened me to stop raising voice for the safe return of my father, Dr Deen Muhammad Baloch, who has been missing for a decade. When I realised what had happened, I suspended my activism for a week and stopped using online space out of fear."

This is the story of Sammi Deen Baloch, 23, a Baloch human rights activist who once freely dwelled in her hometown Maskay district of Awaran, Balochistan. Not anymore.

She left Balochistan after receiving death threats, and decided to move to a safer area -- Sindh's provincial capital Karachi -- to pursue further studies. But she now feels unsafe even in the new city.

She claims that she was followed by mask motorcyclists in Gulistan-e-Johar on April 13 prior to the recent cyber-attack. They snatched her cell phone and pushed her to the wall. Sammi thinks these tactics are meant to stop her from raising voice against enforced disappearance.

There has been no action on his complaint against the mobile snatchers.

“The families of Baloch missing persons including myself held a three-thousand kilometre march from Quetta to Karachi and then towards Islamabad where we staged a demonstration and urged the state authorities to ensure the missing Balochs' safe return. Later, Prime Minister Imran Khan met us on March 18, pledging that his administration will address our grievances. But the issue remains unresolved," she says.

Sammi was hopeless and knew that the authorities won’t assist her as they have always had a cold attitude towards the plight of missing persons. Hundred of thousands of women in Pakistan have been subjected to online harassment, defamation and threats to their digital assets and life. The Federal Investigative Agency (FIA) has not yet developed a thorough strategy to stop the cyber-attacks against women who are more vulnerable to such vitriol.

Sammi points out that women in conservative areas like Balochistan face even greater difficulties because such incidents online result in restrictions on their mobility and freedom in real lives. "The government of Pakistan needs to ensure online safety for women," she says.

Pakistan’s Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) does address such concerns, but its implementation remains part of the problem. Chapter 2, section 20 of the PECA is devoted to “electronic forgery”.

It says, “Whoever interferes with or uses any information system, device or data with the intent to cause damage or injury to the public or to any person, or to make any illegal claim or title or to cause any person to part with property or to enter into any express or implied contract, or with intent to commit fraud by any input, alteration, deletion, or suppression of data, resulting in unauthentic data with the intent that it be considered or acted upon for legal purposes as if it were authentic, regardless of the fact that the data is directly readable and intelligible or not, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description, or a term which may extend to three years, or with fine which may extend to two hundred and fifty thousand rupees or with both”.

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), a digital rights watchdog, works with Facebook and Twitter on online privacy and security of social media users in Pakistan. A few years after its creation, it set up a Cyber Harassment Helpline, which receives an average of 146 calls per-month. In 2019 alone, the helpline got a total of 2023 complaints.

Seemingly, one in three social media users in Pakistan have been suffering the cyber-attacks that come with tending online bullying, threats to digital assets and life. Like Sammi, almost every woman that approaches the authorities with complaints of online harassment is met with a non-serious approach.

Freelance Investigative Journalist and researcher