IN an exercise which bears all the telltale signs of a clampdown on the freedom of expression, the government has approved a set of rules through which it plans to regulate social media. Under these directives, social media giants such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and others will be required to establish a physical presence in Pakistan, register an office in three months, set up database servers here in the coming year and oblige the government when it requests user data and content. The rules also dictate that the tech companies remove content deemed ‘extremist’ by the government — failure to do so will result in a Rs500m fine. What is most troubling is how broadly these rules define extremism, as “violent, vocal or active opposition to fundamental values of the state including the security, integrity or defence of Pakistan, public order, decency or morality, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
Government spokespersons have offered various justifications for these measures. Fawad Chaudhry says the move is an economic decision which will increase advertising revenue. The PTA suggested these rules are a statutory requirement to initiate official engagement with these tech giants. Firdous Ashiq Awan revealed that the regulations will help protect ‘national integrity’. Some also point out that it is, in fact, the PML-N-sanctioned Peca which formed the legal basis for these rules. But without the scrutiny of parliament or input from digital rights groups, these rules raise serious questions and are yet another reminder of how eager the state is to gain access to encrypted citizen information. No doubt, authorities have legitimate concerns about the presence of hate speech, terrorism and child pornography on these forums. The government has also voiced its reservations against the selective editorial discretion of these platforms when it comes to the Kashmir issue. While there are genuine concerns, there is also the reality that Pakistan has a history of controversially invoking notorious euphemisms such as ‘morality’, ‘security’ and ‘integrity’ to justify its control of free speech. Activists and journalists have been harassed under similar pretexts. The recent trend of the state pursuing sedition cases against those critical of alleged state excesses is an example of the authoritarian approach to dissenting voices. In this environment, the manner in which these ominously worded rules were hurriedly released is cause for deep concern and are rightly being criticised.
The Asia Internet Coalition , which is an industry association of tech companies, has categorically stated that the rules appear to erode the personal safety and privacy of citizens and that they also undermine free expression. They have urged the government to ‘reconsider’ them. If the government wishes to engage with these companies and is sincere about a digital economy, it would be better off adopting a less hostile and more transparent approach.
IHK land grab
NOT content with the suffocating conditions prevailing in Kashmir ever since the BJP-led clique in New Delhi annexed the occupied region last year, India’s rulers have now decided to rub further salt in Kashmiris’ wounds. India, it seems, has decided to organise a business summit later this year where investors will be persuaded to put their money in the troubled region; around 6,000 acres have reportedly been made available for this purpose by the Indian state. Though the proposal has been dressed up as an effort to bring jobs and prosperity to India-held Kashmir, no one should be fooled; this is a shameless land grab, an affront to the Kashmiri people where their land is being snatched away from them without their consent to be given to outsiders. In fact, New Delhi seems to be playing from the old colonial playbook, where external forces move in, expropriate land from the locals and then distribute the spoils. Is this how a self-proclaimed democracy functions? Have the Kashmiris been consulted? Obviously not, as the region has been under lockdown since last August. In effect, what the BJP is doing is changing the demographic makeup of Kashmir by settling people from outside. This insidious plot to erase the Kashmiri identity must not be allowed to succeed. Clearly, New Delhi is jittery, as it is offering investors tax breaks and insurance in return for putting their money in IHK. It is obvious that most entrepreneurs would not wish to invest in what is a giant open-air prison, something that has seemingly not occurred to the Indian establishment.
If India is serious about ending the Kashmiris’ suffering, it must lift the siege of IHK, give back Kashmir its autonomous status and start a meaningful dialogue involving the people of the region as well as Pakistan. Cosmetic measures — such as organising a business conference — that are only intended to enhance New Delhi’s stranglehold over IHK will only increase the alienation of the Kashmiris. Unfortunately, the bigoted dispensation at the centre is unlikely to heed sane advice on Kashmir and will continue on its destructive path. This will only add to the misery of the Kashmiris and further vitiate the atmosphere in South Asia. Yet the international community seems to have become numb where this threat to global peace is concerned, as the voices that can censure India’s brutish behaviour, with a few notable exceptions, are silent.
ON Thursday, the Islamabad High Court suspended Section 89 of the Pakistan Penal Code, a provision that allowed for the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary tool on children by parents, teachers and other guardian figures. The high court issued a reminder that the use of violence against children went against the values of inviolability and dignity as enshrined in the Constitution, and was also contradictory to the many international treaties Pakistan is signatory to, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits all forms of corporal punishment. Article 19 (1) of the convention clearly states that member nations must “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child….”
And yet, corporal punishment continues to be culturally accepted in large sections of our society that justify its use as being ‘good for the child’ and will benefit them in the long run by instilling discipline and making them ‘well-adjusted’ members of society. People tend to resort to violence when they lack the vocabulary and reasoning skills to settle conflict, and many parents may resent being told how to raise their children — which may indeed come from a well-intentioned place. However, scientific research on such forms of punishment for children actually differs from the age-old myths about disciplinary action that are passed down the generations and accepted without question. Instead of raising healthy human beings, the vast majority of research on the topic finds instances of greater aggression, antisocial behaviour and mental health issues in children raised in households that practise corporal punishment, where they internalise feeling of mistrust, fear and humiliation at a vulnerable age. It is time to break free from the cycle of abuse.