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Laws Regulating Online Content Already Exist In Pakistan

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Following backlash over the proposed rules to restrict digital freedom, the government has announced that the move is aimed at restricting online content promoting blasphemy, child pornography, extremism and other crimes and that the regulations would be implemented after ‘consultation with all stakeholders’. Farieha Aziz argues that such laws already exist in Pakistan and no new regulations are needed.

Focal Person to Prime Minister on Digital Media Dr Arsalan Khalid said that the government would hold ‘extensive consultation with all the stakeholders’ for regulation of content on social media. “Rules that can stop content promoting blasphemy, child pornography , extremism/hate speech,character assassination and fake news shall be discussed with all the stake holders”, he tweeted.

But as a matter of fact, for all the categories mentioned above, laws in Pakistan already exist. In some cases multiple. Platforms also have Rules and Guidelines covering some of this. Transparency reports also reveal compliance with government requests in these categories.

PPC offences covering a few of these categories are listed here (pre-PECA note):

Section 294: Section 294 of the PPC makes engaging in obscene acts, or singing, reciting or uttering obscene songs, ballads or words, in or near any public place, to the annoyance of others, an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three (03) months, or with fine, or with both.

(ii) Section 295-A: Section 295-A of the PPC makes insulting or attempting to insult the religion or religious beliefs of a class of the citizens of Pakistan by words, either spoken or written or by visible representations, with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class, an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten (10) years, or with fine, or with both.

(iii) Section 295-C: Section 295-C of the PPC makes the defiling of the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) directly or indirectly by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, an offence punishable with death.

(iv) Section 298: Section 298 of the PPC makes the uttering of any word or making of any sound in the hearing of a person or making any gesture in the sight of that person or placing of any object in the sight of that person, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of such person, an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one (01) year, or with fine, or with both.

(v) Section 298A: Section 298A of the PPC makes the defiling of the sacred name of any wife (Ummul Mumineen), or members of the family (Ahle-bait) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), or any of the righteous Caliphs (Khulafae-Rashideen) or companions (Sahaaba) of Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), directly or indirectly by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term which extend to three (03) years, or with fine, or with both.

There is also Section 11 of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). These are enforced and have extended to the online medium as well whether for take down requests or actual cases brought against individuals.

These are criminal offences under PECA:
Section 11 – Hate speech
Section 20 – Offences against dignity of natural person (covers false information & privacy)
Section 21 – Offences against modesty of a natural person
Section 22 – Child pornography
Section 24 – Cyber Stalking

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Cases have also been registered under these sections. How many under child pornography – a cognizable offence and state has power to initiate case – not known. Compare volume of other cases and how they fare not because of courts but FIA. IP addresses for prosecution were obtained.

For sections 20, 21, 22 and 24, the law says “any aggrieved person or his guardian, where such person is a minor, may apply to the Authority for removal, destruction of or blocking access to such information.” The Authority being PTA. How many such citizen complaints were processed?

Those saying we need laws and regulations or are responding to critique of rules with ‘should there be no regulation,’ are engaged in an ill-formed discourse aimed at misinforming the public and spreading disinformation. You can’t talk about addressing fake news and say this yourself.

It is FALSE that we do not have laws and regulations. It is FALSE that the laws are not being applied. Instead, question use and abuse.

Twitter rules cover the following: Violence, terrorism/violent extremism, child sexual exploitation, abuse/harassment, hateful conduct, suicide or self-harm, sensitive media, including graphic violence and adult content, private information, non-consensual nudity, impersonation.

These exist. They’re enforced. Yes there are problems. That’s what we need to discuss and fix. It needs to be discussed as to how we can address citizens’ grievances and user complaints to make platforms safer and more accessible. The government must not pass off schemes to further entrench state’s control in name of protection of citizens.

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The above was originally posted as a Twitter thread and has been edited for clarity with the author’s consent.

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