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Rights Groups Say No Talks With Govt Until Controversial Online Rules Are Withdrawn

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A number of right organisations, including digital rights bodies have said that they would not hold talks with government regarding the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules 2020, until the federal cabinet withdraws the ‘controversial’ rules it approved on Feb 11.

The groups have categorically told the government that the rules should be withdrawn, before it seeks any input from stakeholders. Following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s direction to the authorities to take all the stakeholders on board before implementing the social media rules, which have been termed draconian by activists, various journalistic and rights bodies have refused to give their opinions on the rules as the federal cabinet has not withdrawn the rules to date.

The Ministry of Information Technology formed a committee headed by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Amir Azeem Bajwa to seek the input of all the stakeholders concerned regarding Citizen Protection Rules. The rights groups have also objected to the selection of committee members for consultation as not a single representative of civil society, digital rights bodies, and stakeholders has been nominated.

According to a statement signed by various organisations including, Naya Daur Media, Bolo Bhi, Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan Bar Council, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the government has refused to clarify the legal status of the rules without which “any consultation is merely token to deflect criticism and not a genuine exercise to seek input”.

“While cabinet approval for the rules remains in place, there can be no engagement or consultation. This only shows the government’s intent to use the consultation as a smokescreen while intending to implement and enforce the rules already prepared and approved. The abuse of authority by the PTA and government, especially their misuse of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (Peca) 2016 to stifle dissent will have to be addressed first,” the statement read.

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In its statement, the rights bodies have demanded that the consultation must follow an open and transparent process. They said all the input should be put together in a report form – to be disseminated for public feedback, before implementation of rules.

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