A woman was killed last week for marrying a man of her choice. She was beaten to death by her father, brothers, and former fiance. First, they tried to snatch her away from her husband. When that failed, her own kin attacked her, swung bricks at her, and beat her till her screams eventually stopped. They finally succeeded in killing her after previous attempts to attack her on multiple occasions had failed. She was three months pregnant.

This did not happen on the orders of a Jirga. This didn’t happen in a rural village or a quiet neighborhood in an urban locality with no witnesses. This did not happen in some abandoned property late at night. No, this crime took place in broad daylight, near Lahore High Court (LHC) with eyewitnesses standing by and doing nothing as a woman was murdered before their eyes.

An important fact related to the case is being misrepresented in almost all official reports. The public ‘honor’ killing of Farzana is being referred to as a stoning. This could not be further from the truth. The victim’s father told investigators that four people were involved in the plotting of the murder, which means it was a premeditated ‘honor’ killing. What it wasn’t is a public stoning. Pakistan is one amongst 15 countries where stoning as a punishment is practiced, but these incidents of stoning are always extra-judicial. Stoning is the punishment for committing zina (adultery), and in countries where it is legal or practiced, it is sanctioned by the law, or by the community. In the case of Pakistan, where it is practiced, but not legal.

As the online initiative Pakistan Feminist Watch wrote in their statement: “This is also being misreported as a stoning which makes it seem like a state-sanctioned punishment which it was not. No parallel legal system ordered it either… Her family members fired at her and then used bricks and stones that were lying near them to beat her to death… A stoning is very different. This was not one.”

Pertinent questions that arise in this situation is the inaction of the court. If courts had not opened at the time, surely there were lawyers going to and fro from LHC? And if the crime was committed right in front of the LHC, where were the court’s security guards? Why were they absent from the crime scene, and if present, why didn’t they do anything to prevent the crime? And what about the crowd of onlookers that gathered as the deed was committed, but did not attempt to stop it? Reports reveal that Farzana was supposedly escorted by three policemen, how then was she attacked and eventually killed? Her husband  and stepson begged the police  who refused to help. The case is eerily reminiscent of the Sialkot lynching of two young brothers in 2010. The two boys were beaten to death by a mob, while those looking on, including police officers, did nothing. That is the only similarity to the case of course, but one has to wonder how or why, we as a people, have reached this point. Two teenagers, or a pregnant woman are beaten to death before us, and we do nothing to prevent the crime from happening.

Foreign media outlets picked up on the story within hours. The Guardian, New York Times, Time, all ran the story, and the news was successfully outraged over on social media. Dawn, Express Tribune, and The News dedicated an editorial each to condemning the public killing.

According to a report published by Aurat Foundation in 2012, the number of ‘honor’ killings reported for the years 2008-2012 decreased from 475 cases in 2008 to 432 in 2012. This isn’t an indicator of a decrease in killings in the name of  ‘honor.’ The decrease in figures indicates that ‘honor’ killings were perhaps reported on less since the Aurat Foundation builds its reports on media sources. In contrast, the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) report cited 869 cases of ‘honor’ killings in 2013. Thanks to the Qisas and Diyat laws, ‘honor’ killings have  become easier, so to speak, as the men who commit ‘honor’ killings are brothers, fathers, uncles of the women, and, therefore, can be forgiven by their family under the law, and avoid jail time.

 There is no justification for committing murder in any situation. But ‘honor’ killings are problematic when the reasons for committing murder are ‘infidelity’ or ‘illicit affairs’; the reality is that just glancing at another man, speaking to one, or walking next to a man, can and is considered as proof of an ‘illicit’ relationship between a man and woman. In any case, suspected or confirmed infidelity is not a cause for murder, and the social double standards which allow men to marry as they please, but punish women for forgetting that they are another man’s property are increasingly hypocritical. Love marriages and elopement are often involved in ‘honor’ killings, due to the mindset that a woman marrying of her own choice brings dishonor to the family. Why? Because in a patriarchal social structure, a woman’s agency is taken away, and her life is dictated by the traditions and customs of patriarchy. Any deviation from these traditions is a blow against the patriarchy and  family honour is one of patriarchy’s many tools.

The head of the family is male, and so, if the women under his ‘rule’ deviates in any way, the ‘burden’ falls upon him, and the other male members of the family, to punish the transgression, so that the family ‘honor,’ or rather his ‘honor,’ is restored to its virginal glory, and the structure of patriarchy remains intact.

But is patriarchy breaking or not? That is the key question here, because the majority of women’s problems is caused by patriarchy, and that is why it must be dismantled. According to Bolo Bhi’s news records, from May 12-31 there were 23 cases of ‘honor’ killings reported in Dawn, The News, and Express Tribune. Out of these, 15 cases cited alleged affairs, and five cited  love marriages as a ‘cause’ of murder. More and more reports of honour killings are related to women choosing their partner. Isn’t this a sign that women are gaining more agency and making more decisions on their own, causing cracks within the patriarchy? Considering that women are well aware that they face death by eloping or marrying of their own choice, isn’t this a rebellion of sorts, a decision to die on their own terms rather than be bartered off into marriage a symbol of silent defiance?

[Read Pakistan's Suffragettes by Farieha Aziz] 

Whether that is the case or not, it is no justification for senseless violence. The destruction of patriarchy cannot come at such a high cost – at the sacrifice of so many innocent women across the country. But it is a matter of how we choose to perceive the situation. We cannot individually charge across the nation as vigilantes. It may sound heroic, but it is not a solution in any case. But consider this: what if the increase in acts of violence against women is a desperate attempt by the patriarchy to regain control over rebellious women? Wouldn’t recognizing the weakening of a seemingly-invincible social structure give us greater power to fight it? Rather than despairing over the inhumanity of murdering a woman in broad daylight, it is better to not let an innocent woman’s death be in vain and become yet another statistic. Rights organizations including the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP), Shirkat Gah, Women’s Action Forum (WAF)  as well as the United Nations (UN) have expressed their horror at the crime, and the impunity that allowed this to happen in broad daylight.

Let Farzana be a symbol of the brutality of patriarchy, the barbarity of a social system that disproportionately favors men and reduces women to chattel. Let our collective rage become a clarion call to all who support the cause. As more and more women defy social conventions for the right to make their own life decisions, it will only represent female empowerment  as women risk death to live on their own terms. That they should not have to risk their lives is a moot point; what matters is how many women take the risk, because each woman represents hope for the future of women in the country.


All of us, at some stage or the other, have typed our names into various search engines. Some have been met by a wall of fame meticulously archiving all their wonderful achievements. Others, including myself, have been met by a chronicled horror show of teenage angst and a laundry list of things we wish we hadn’t said or done. For the latter we all desperately wish we could erase all evidence of our naïve past from the vast cosmoses of the Internet.

The debate on the privacy of one’s information online has stretched on for a very long time now, yet it is no closer to a conclusive, accepted standard than it was when it first started. However, a recent EU ruling suggests it has settled on a standard – acceptable or not is up for debate.

EU Ruling

The debate over the right to be forgotten, at least in the European Union culminated on the May 13, 2014, when the European Court of Justice, in a lengthy decision in the case of Google Inc v Mr Costeja González, ruled that any individual could demand that a search engine remove all unwanted information about the individual from its index – regardless of whether it were accurate, lawful, or publicly available elsewhere.

In the case itself, a legally published article from a newspaper in 1998 detailing Mr González’s non-payment of his mortgage had been archived online and searching for his name on Google brought up the article as one of the results. Mr González sought to have Google remove the archive as he believed it acted to his detriment and infringed upon his privacy.

Given the reaction and criticism the ruling has elicited, the case is not as straightforward as the ruling may suggest. One of the questions being asked is why must onus to remove data be on a search engine when it is not responsible for the publication of that data (and that it is the user who chooses to publish). With regards to this, judges opined that the indexing of pages on the Web fit the definition of “processing” data as per the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, which Google was under a legal duty to abide by. The Court felt that by aggregating a vast amount of data on an individual, a search engine creates a larger illustration of the individual that would otherwise “not have been interconnected or could have been only with great difficulty.”

The ruling however creates an exception to the rule. The court held that the right to be forgotten could not be applied if there was an “interest in the public having that information… [and] the role played by the data subject in public life.” This is vastly open to interpretation. What satisfies the threshold of an individual playing a substantial role in public life? Is the threshold satisfied if he/she is a politician? If he/she has five-figure Facebook friends /Twitter followers? What about a circumstance in which an individual is not a “public personality” at that point in time and successfully manages to have data on him/her removed from search engines, only to later become the Prime Minister of the country? Will the onus be on a company/search engine to restore all data on the individual that they previously expunged?

To further illustrate the complexities of such a threshold, how it is to be determined and by whom, here is a list of individuals who have requested Google to have data on them removed from its indexes. A list ranging from politicians, celebrities, doctors, to convicted sex-offenders.

Prior to the ruling by the European Court of Justice, Google policy dictated it would remove any information from its index if it made individuals susceptible to certain harms. The ruling however goes a lot further and allows individuals to erase their digital footprint even in cases where it may be highlighting previous misdemeanours. It is therefore no surprise that both Google and Wikimedia – the parent company of Wikipedia – have deemed the EU ruling to be “astonishing.”

It is interesting to review the impact of this ruling in the context of a on recent case in local German courts. Wolfgang Werlé and Manfred Lauber’s claim to fame was their murder of a German actor in 1990. They sued Wikimedia to “forget them” and remove all mention of their past act. Under German law, a criminal’s name can be suppressed in news accounts once he/she has served his/her sentence. The German courts, in line with precedent, did order Wikimedia to suppress all content related to the two, however, as Wikimedia had no local operations in Germany, it was not jurisdictionally obligated to abide by a decision of a German court.

If jurisdiction were not a barrier, the outcome in the above-mentioned case would boil down to a question of whether the public has an interest in knowing the past actions of Werlé and Lauber. That is a criteria easy to stretch to fit any narrative, for example, one could put forth the argument that the convicted individuals had a better chance of rehabilitation if their history was expunged. If such an argument succeeded, it would be akin to individuals erasing an integral part of their past, and denying their future associates access to information that perhaps should be known to them before embarking on a mutual endeavor.

Requiring intermediaries to alter – and as viewed by some, censor – data on the Internet could, in the long run, stifle intermediaries, restricting them from providing services that afford free and easy access to information. Also, if legally obtained and published information about individuals starts being removed, neutrality of data and the Internet would be further diminished.

Quoting Orwell, “He who controls the past, controls the future,” said a statement on the case issued by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil liberties group. In this case, the lines are blurred and who has the authority to do what is unclear.

Divergent views on the ‘right to be forgotten’

The right to be forgotten is a dangerous path to tread upon, argues Jeffrey Rosen, professor of law at George Washington University. If unfettered permission is granted to expunge people’s past, ideals of free speech and a neutral Internet can quickly be forgotten, and corporations and powerful individuals will have greater authority to control the flow of information online.

Proponents of the ‘right to be forgotten’ argue that every individual deserves the right to privacy. The vast picture of our stories that is painted across the internet can be collected by people and used in order to commit a vast range of misdeeds, ranging from identity theft to stalking individuals. On the other hand, opponents of the ‘right to be forgotten’ claim all information available on the Internet is published legally – and often voluntarily self-published by an individual online. Their view on the ‘right to be forgotten’ is that is just another way enabling governments, companies and individuals to exert control over what may and what may not be published online. On the flip side, if one is not allowed to remove their digital footprint under certain circumstances, there can be a very real threat to the security of their person. Striking a balance between the two extremes is imperative.

The cultural juxtaposition between the respective approaches of the EU and US towards this issue, poses an interesting reading. While the EU has acted to limit the scope of information that is publicly accessible citing privacy laws, the US and its First Amendment stand in direct opposition. Accurate or not, what the two divergent positions have been defined as are privacy vs censorship.

What the debate really boils down to is a question of individual liberties: does the liberty to either express oneself or access legitimate information outweigh the need to protect one’s privacy? Is it even valid to deem acts legitimately published in the public domain as private? Is this polarity reasonable to begin with? The answers to these questions require also are not straightforward and call for complex reasoning and, at a glance, consideration that this is anything but a simplistic matter and requires further deliberation is found missing in the European Court’s decision.

The majority view on the decision is that it is sweeping in nature and seemingly fails to address the balance between public and private data. According to the Stanford Law Review, it is imperative to draw up a comprehensive policy that provides a clearer framework of data that ought to be protected, and data that need not be. However, such policies must ensure that the right to free expression and access to information are construed widely and only subverted where there is legitimate harm being caused to an individual not to hide a ‘wrongdoing’ on their part.

Edit: Since this article was published Google has launched a portal wherein European citizens can request that links containing information about them are removed from search result pages.This is the first step to comply with a court ruling affirming the “right to be forgotten”.


The Stanford Law Review

The European Journal of Law and Technology

The New York Times

The Guardian


Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a  collaborative venture by law school clinics and the Electronic Frontier Foundation that collects and analyzes legal complaints about online activity, posted online five requests made to Twitter by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA). 

The requests were made between May 5-14, 2014 and cite the Pakistan Penal Code as legal justification for content removal. These requests were entertained as per Twitter’s ‘Country Withheld Content’ tool , which entertains requests from government and law enforcement agencies to have potentially illegal content and accounts removed or restricted in the country making the request.

The question that then must be asked is of the legitimacy of the requests forwarded by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). The PTA, in accordance with Section 5 of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Re-Organization Act 1996 (amended 2005) is a body established to regulate licenses and workings of telecommunication services and systems. The Act does not in any form give PTA the authority to arbitrarily restrict content on the Internet. Section 8 of the Act allows the Federal Government to authorize the PTA to take or implement certain policy decisions; however, content removal, whether by itself or through another, is beyond the ambit of powers of the PTA or of any government authority for that matter.

PTA has gone on record to say previously – in court and the media – that it is the IMCEW’s (Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites) directives it follows vis a vis restriction of access or content online. As a regulator, it says it does what is directed to do.

If there was federal authorisation for these requests, then in the interest of transparency, the relevant bodies should make public the legal process followed to route these requests. Who initiated the complaint, where was the complaint made, who forwarded it and what law specifically was cited for removal.

It is pertinent to highlight that Pakistan does not have cyber laws or any clearly defined policy that applies to the Internet. No specific protections exist in law that support user privacy and citizens’ right to information.  In the past, content has been blocked in an ad hoc manner. A lot of political dissent has been blocked under the garb of blocking anti-religious or anti-national content, disregarding citizens’ right to information and the need for transparency and accountability.

Twitter’s ‘Country Withheld Tool,’ while seeking to facilitate the manner in which governments make requests, is worrisome for citizens in countries where no transparent and legal processes exist for access and content on the Internet. Over the last few years, various authorities have arbitrarily blocked and censored the Internet, not over ‘illegal’ content, but to suppress political dissent. The process by which requests from governments are entertained by Twitter must also be made public knowledge. What is considered a valid complaint, through what process and policy?

Speedy compliance without this information being placed on public record sets a dangerous precedent and hampers efforts of those seeking to limit censorship on the Internet in Pakistan.  Government authorities have routinely cited Facebook’s speedy compliance with take down requests as a justification to continue the ban on YouTube, and it appears as though Twitter is joining that league requiring little in way of due process to comply with requests.

Watch Barrister Babar Sattar’s Legal Analysis regarding Internet Policy, Law & Fundamental Rights



In 1994, when the internet age arrived in China, President Jiang Zemin believed that the world was moving towards a new age where technology and information would be of utmost importance and would provide the impetus for progress. That acted as an incentive to begin incorporating technology to uplift China’s booming economy. But as Deng Xiaoping, one of China’s Eight Elders once famously said, “If you open the window for fresh air, you have to expect some flies to blow in.” In order to keep these “flies” out of China, its leaders began to develop the Golden Shield Project in 1998, which  was unveiled in 2000 and implemented in 2006.

This project of massive surveillance and censorship started out as an attempt to maintain records of citizens and control content. It however, quickly spiraled into a mass surveillance and control mechanism for citizens of China, thus earning the nickname; “The Great Firewall of China.”

Today, the state of Chinese netizens is deplorable. Companies practice self-censorship out of fear of being shut down by authorities if they fail to comply with the strict laws on censorship. Citizens cannot access many websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, DropBox, and Twitter, and even the TOR browser has been blocked. Website activity and telephone conversations are monitored to ensure that censored words such as “protest” are not being used (even Shakespeare is not exempted).

Websites such as Google are censored to the point that if Chinese citizens search for Tiananmen Square, they won’t see any images or links related to the massacre of 1989 but only tourist images of the Square itself. Books, articles, and films related to the massacre have been completely censored as well. Several activists and journalists have been arrested for even referring to the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre over email. In 2012, the Chinese authorities also started to block Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) that allowed citizens to access blocked websites.

In June 2013, The Guardian began publishing a series of articles that revealed how the National Surveillance Agency (NSA) was spying on Americans and foreign citizens using programs such as PRISM, which collected information including search history, web-chat, and emails, as well as collecting phone data.  According to a detailed report in The Guardian, “The NSA had secretly attached intercepts to the undersea fibre optic cables that ringed the world. This allowed them to read much of the globe’s communications. All of Silicon Valley was involved Google, Microsoft, Facebook, even Steve Jobs’s Apple. It had even put secret back doors into online encryption software – used to make secure bank payments – weakening the system for everybody. The spy agencies had hijacked the internet.”

The surveillance was not  limited to possible criminals or people with links to terrorist organizations- as whistleblower Edward Snowden explained in his first public  interview for The Guardian, “Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded…it’s getting to the point where you don’t even have to have done anything wrong, you only have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made…attack you on that basis…and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”

Globally, China is seen as a repressive state with limited, if any freedom. America, while criticized for many reasons, is largely perceived as a liberated country, and it’s people’s freedoms are idealized a great deal. American society is also shifting towards a more egalitarian model, with various individuals and organizations battling for gender and racial equality.  But a mostly liberated public and fundamental human rights are clearly not mutually inclusive for the American Government, given  the state is carrying out extensive surveillance, not just on its own citizens, but foreign countries as well.

In Pakistan, censorship began as early as 2006, when the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA)  began aggressively blocking websites that were deemed to have objectionable, immoral or blasphemous material.  In 2012, reports emerged claiming that the PTA was pursuing a URL-filtering system whereby, instead of blocking websites on an IP level they could simply target specific URLs (including ones within websites).

While, the YouTube ban is still in place since 2012, in late 2013, the Sindh government attempted to ban Viber, Whatsapp, Skype, and other chat applications for a period of three months claiming national security concerns. While the Sindh government did not go ahead with the plan amid backlash from users, it is an alarming notion that they would  consider limiting the ways in which people communicate.

Pakistan, like China, longed to ban the use of VPNs. Earlier this year, PTA began a crackdown on VPNs in the garb of “curbing grey traffic”. This began with banning SpotFlux, and gradually moved on to other VPNs such as HotSpot Shield and CyberGhost, which meant that netizens could no longer access YouTube, unless they used proxies.  (Read our post on VPN blocking in Pakistan)

While Pakistan may lack the technological sophistication that United States has at its disposal, it is clear that for a long time, Pakistan has been greatly inspired by China’s censorship policies. The ban on YouTube, and previous short-lived bans on social networking websites Facebook and Twitter, as well as the surveillance technology FinFisher and URL-filtering and blocking software Netsweeper, are reminiscent of the many ways in which China carries out its censorship and surveillance. In fact, in late April 2014, PTCL partnered with Dailymotion to bring the website to Pakistan. This is no different from what China has done, blocking websites such as YouTube to replace them with its own YouKu, Sina Weibo as a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter, and even localized search engines.

The political condition in China, when it began to implement its repressive policies, and of Pakistan in the past decade is largely different. China’s oppressive regime has been silencing its people with brutality and censorship long before the internet was created.

Individuals and organizations are comparatively freer to criticize government censorship in Pakistan, and yet they are still living with partial censorship. The government still shows a lack of interest in removing the YouTube ban despite vocal opposition from civil society. PTA has gone on record to state that it does not conduct surveillance, despite the presence of Finfisher servers in Pakistan. It is also quite clear that the government, especially the Ministry is not consulting with civil society activists and organizations and thus, operating under willful ignorance.

The comparison between the digital landscapes in Pakistan and the repressive conditions in China are valid, and much-needed. The image is bleak, but needed to reflect where we are headed in terms of digital privacy and access to information.  Pakistan could replicate the Chinese model of censorship in efforts to govern the internet, and that is something that cannot be allowed to happen.


Mr. Mohsin Shah Nawaz Ranjhahas, the Parliamentary Secretary of Information & Broadcasting, recently made an all too popular  statement regarding social media, and problems that are common for users worldwide. Commenting on the misuse of social media by “online miscreants”, Mr. Ranjhahas said that the government would formulate a policy to deal with ‘false information’ spread online through ‘fake identifications.’ The name ascribed to those who pose such  a problem is an internet troll. It is important to understand that there is a difference between harmless, good-humored trolling and vicious, abusive trolling. Friends and acquaintances may tease each other or joke in good humor, but on the darker end of the spectrum, there are individuals whose sole intention is to create an environment of hostility and discrimination. This kind of troll is someone who will use a fake identity online to harass people, spread rumors as facts, or relentlessly criticize someone in order to provoke an emotional response. Trolls will often operate with multiple identities, so if you block one social media profile, another will take its place. It may sound like there is no way to thwart a troll, but in actuality, there are several.

Trolls always want an audience to witness their abuse and bullying, because they crave attention in one form or the other. That is why they will often congregate on social media websites, where many people can see them engaging people in their banalities. They either attempt to publicly humiliate others, or they believe a large audience should hear their opinions, which is why, especially on political issues, an online troll will say the same thing to different people, mostly opinion leaders such as talk show hosts and news anchors, seeking approval from authority figures.

In cases where trolls attack political or public figures, the intention is almost always to cast negative light upon the individual; the troll may dislike the person’s political affiliations, public opinions, or in some cases, even aspects of their personal life. However, as wrong and mentally distressing as the deeds of online trolls are, that cannot serve as an excuse to limit, censor, or ban social media in any way. There are many ways to deal with this particular nuisance, and we, the good folks at Bolo Bhi have enlisted a number of efficient ways that work much better than policing the internet.

Understand the difference between trolling and expressing opinions: This is especially important when you occupy a position that frequently places you in the public eye, such as working for a media group, the state, or a public sector organization. Even if the expression of the idea conveyed an aggressive tone, it is still covered under free speech, and unless there is an explicit threat to your personal safety, or of your friends and family, there is no cause for any action at all. You can either a) choose to ignore the criticism, or b) address it by engaging in civil, polite discussion, or c) if you do not wish to engage in a lengthy debate, only tell the person that you understand what they’re saying and that you can just agree to disagree.

Block & Report as spam: All social media platforms provide the option for users to block unsolicited commentators and report them as spam. This is not a permanent fix, you block one account and others may pop up. Despite the fact that this will act as a temporary deterrence, it is an important one, as we will go on to explain in step 4.

Do not feed the trolls: A common phrase on how to deal with online bullying is “do not feed the trolls.” When someone is harassing and/or threatening you, there is certainly a serious issue, but when an online troll is only trying to provoke a response out of you, it may  be better to simply ignore the troll. Online bullies and trolls feed on other people’s rage, discomfort, and unhappiness; by making jokes and comments to upset people. Reacting with discomfort and annoyance to trolling is giving trolls what they want. We are not asking you to make light of threats or to not deal with harassment, deal with it, but do not exhaust yourself by engaging with an aggressive troll.

Report abuse: Remember in step two when we asked you to report individual’s statements as spam? Well, this is precisely why. All social media platforms flaunt an abuse policy and a method to report abusers. We have made a list of email addresses to reach out to in case you are facing abuse on social media. When writing the email, remember to provide all necessary details, screenshots of the accounts’ tweets, the screenshots reporting spam and lastly, a list of all accounts that are involved in harassing/trolling should be included.

Investigate the troll’s identity: Sometimes, it is easy to understand a troll’s ideology by reading the content they share on social media, or the tweets or comments they may be making in public, or they might even write on a blog. By investigating public content that is not a violation of the troll’s privacy, you can understand their ideology, which may be against your own opinions, political affiliations, or beliefs. Armed with this knowledge, you can then inform the social media public about how you’re being harassed by someone because of your opinions and views, thereby exposing the troll to criticism, rather than becoming the target of criticism yourself by reacting poorly to trolling attempts.

Block IPs yourself when possible, or through external sources: If you’re being trolled on a website or blog such as WordPress, there are numerous options that allow you to block the IP Address of a troll, so they cannot make various fake identities and harass you. In cases where IPs are not identified such as social media, the websites in question cannot release information such as IP addresses to a civilian, and can only do so when an official request is made by authority figures. In such a case, you can take a screen capture of the content that is harassing or threatening you, and get in touch with CPLC  who can help you take steps to ensure your personal and online safety.

Protect your privacy online: The content we share through social media connects us to friends and family, but it can also be used against us. It is essential to familiarize yourself with whatever social media platform you are using, and know your privacy settings from status updates to your photos. Make sure that your close friends and family protect their privacy too, as trolls will often target what they perceive to be your weakness, such as your nearest and dearest. Bolo Bhi has a list of resources for maintaining your digital security, and ensuring that personal, sensitive information cannot fall in the hands of anyone who means you harm.




How to report abuse on Facebook

Facebook Safety Center

Report a Violation of Facebook Terms

How to report harassment or abuse if you’re not on Facebook

Privacy rights: Photo removal request

Report a privacy rights infringement

Report a convicted sex offender

Report blackmail

Report suicidal content

Report abuse at: abuse@facebook.com


How to report an abusive user

Report account for impersonation

Report account for spam

Report a problem to the support team


Report a profile

Report spam or inappropriate content

Report abuse in public video hangouts

Report abuse on events

Contact a Gmail user abusing Google’s Terms of Service (TOS)

Compromised Gmail account

Learn about suspicious activity on your Google account

Gmail security checklist

How to delete your Google Plus profile


Reporting spam, phishing, or scams to Yahoo

Report an inappropriate comment or abuse on Yahoo

What to do if your account is sending spam

What to do if you’re being harassed on Yahoo

Form for contacting Yahoo


On an order dated March 13, 2014, the divisional bench hearing the ‘YouTube case’ issued directions Minister of State for Information Technology and Telecommunications (MOITT) to meet with four court-appointed technical experts from the private sector, the technical team of PTA and the Ministry to “evolve a joint strategy” to remove objectionable content from YouTube.

As per the court’s directions, the meeting was to include an officer of the Attorney General’s office and a representative of the petitioner. The meeting was to be held before the next date of hearing (i.e. May 13, 2014) and a report on the outcome was to be presented on the said date.

As per the directions of the court, the meeting was held on April 30 and the report presented to court on May 13.

Find below the report by the Ministry and an independent version by the technical experts:

MOIT’s report

Technical Experts’ report

The emerging consensus was towards the placement of interstitials  before any offending content given that there is no way to absolutely block content on the Internet 100% – which has been confirmed by both PTA through its representatives in court and its Chairman before the Senate and National Assembly, and by various technical experts, before court.

An order for the hearing on May 13 is awaited, however given there is a 2012 judgment by the Supreme Court in this matter, a final outcome is not to be expected just yet.

See our submission to court on May 13, 2014 here

See Related Posts

Timelines: YouTube Ban 2012-2014  & YouTube Case Updates by Bolo Bhi

1. Summary of hearings April 12 and 26

2. Submissions to court made by Bolo Bhi up to July 4, 2013 

3. Submission by amicus Khurram Zafar on home-based blocking vs state

4. Google’s letter to court

5. PTA’s submission to court – July 25:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

6. Joint submission by Farieha Aziz and Khurram Zafar

7. Bolo Bhi’s submission to court on educational value of content available on YouTube (Part 1) – August 2, 2013:

Part 1

Part 2: Letters by 4 individuals – August 2, 2013:

Toffee TV

Salman Ansari

Imtiaz Noor

Muhammad Ismail

Interim order by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah

Date: May 13, 2014

Writ Petition 958­2013: BytesforAll vs Federation

Lahore High Court

Submitted to:

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah & Justice Atir Mahmood

Honourable Sirs,

Below is a summary of the discourse that has taken place in court over the last year, on lifting the ban on YouTube, and input that has been gathered from stakeholders outside it.

In this regard, two notable events must be mentioned:

1)     The Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights passed a unanimous resolution on April 29, 2014, to lift the ban on YouTube (Annex A)

2)     The National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to lift the ban on YouTube on May 6, 2014 (Annex B)

In the following pages, is a summary of discussions including proposed solutions.

Thank you.

Farieha Aziz

Director, Bolo Bhi


Summary of hearings and submissions before court:


–       When Google was approached to remove the offending video, Innocence of Muslims, by Pakistan, the following was Google’s response on why they didn’t block it (as per their letter to Lahore High Court in the YouTube case):

1)     Unless a video violates community guidelines or is flagged by a number of users, nothing is removed from .com

2)     Access to the offending video was restricted in countries where YouTube offers a localized service i.e. country-level domain in compliance with local laws

–       Google has no legal presence in Pakistan and YouTube does not offer a localized service i.e. offers a country-level domain (i.e. youtube.com.pk)

–       In the letter to court, Google stated the decision to localize was based on commercial interests and the legal environment of a country, among others, and for Pakistan, there were no immediate plans to localize

–       What was offered to Pakistan like Bangladesh and Afghanistan where there is no local presence, were interstitials – warning screens before the offending video

What other countries did in response to the objectionable video

–       Upon the request of the following countries, the video was restricted by Google/YouTube in: Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Turkey where there exist localized versions of YouTube or the company is registered

–       Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan – where Google is not registered nor is there a localized version of YouTube – banned YouTube since the video was not restricted

–       All three countries were offered interstitials – warning screens before the offending video marking it as objectionable content

–       While Bangladesh and Afghanistan accepted interstitials and proceeded to lift the ban on YouTube in 2013, Pakistan chose to keep the ban in place

–       Pakistan is the only country – including the only Muslim country – where YouTube is still banned in reaction to the video

SOLUTION: Interstitial screens


–  According to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, the entire website had to be blocked as particular links to the offending video could not be blocked due to technological capability

–  PTA’s response to court on the technological capability was as follows:

1)  YouTube’s traffic is served through HTTPS, which means all sessions are secure and encrypted

2)  While HTTP (unencrypted) links have been blocked, there is no way to block HTTPS traffic

3)  Attempting to tamper with HTTPS traffic (which would not be limited to just YouTube but 
Internet traffic as a whole), would be detrimental to commerce and industry in the country, said a 
PTA official in court

–  Despite this, the government has been in pursuit of filters

–  Filters for HTTPS traffic not only violate privacy but are a security breach, tampering with legitimate 
certificates of websites, leading to the weakening of secure communication online which would have an adverse impact on cyber security, exposing passwords and online transactions such as credit card and banking information

–  PTA Chairman has stated before the Senate that there exists no technology in the world that can block content on the Internet 100% (Annex C)

– This is clear through the use of proxies by citizens to circumvent the ban on YouTube; however, not only are proxies slow but they infect users’ computers with viruses and malwares and not a solution

–       Alternately, Internet Service providers can offer Value Added Services that Internet users can opt for if they want certain material blocked for consumption in their homes or, alternately, employ freely available softwares on their machines that they can manage themselves (Annex D)

SOLUTION: Self-regulation with the help of value-added services by ISPs or free software tools, along with parental control for children and viewer discretion for adults

- – – – –   – – – – –   – – – – –   – – – – -

    The video, Innocence of Muslims, uploaded to YouTube by a user, must be condemned in the strongest words possible. While there are no two views that this video has hurt and offended sentiments, there are better ways of registering a protest against this video than a blanket ban on YouTube. The continuing ban on YouTube in Pakistan, which has been in place for nearly a year-and- a-half now, is depriving the citizens of Pakistan access to a platform where they can not only counter such videos by uploading positive ones about Islam and its teachings, but also utilize this platform for the acquisition of knowledge.

Right to Information

–  YouTube is a global video-sharing platform that hosts content uploaded by users from across the world

–  Before the ban, YouTube was being used by Pakistanis to access various types of content: lectures on Islam to recitations of the Quran; academic lectures shared by Ivy League universities; news bulletins and political talk shows by local media outlets etc

–  Musicians and artists in Pakistan were using it to promote their work across the world

–  Small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs were using it to market their work and products

–  YouTube was also a source of entertainment

– Based on a rudimentary analysis of only a limited number of YouTube channels and publicly available data, the following table summarizes categorized viewership of YouTube videos (shared by Khurram Zafar, July 2013):

Add 150x150 Submission to Court in YouTube Case: May 13, 2014

Click on image for full view

– The ban on YouTube violates citizens’ right to information

Legal Perspective

–  The ban on YouTube was placed through an executive order, issued by the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW), announced by then Prime Minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf on September 17, 2012

–  The IMCEW (whose secretariat is housed under the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunications [MOIT]) is not a statutory body constituted through an Act of parliament and derives no legal authority to issue directives to prevent access to any website or content

–  Nevertheless, the IMCEW’s orders are consistently implemented by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) through directives issued to its licensees (Internet Service Providers)

–  PTA, in compliance with an IMCEW order, instructed that an ‘IP-level ban’ be placed on YouTube

–  The PTA Reorganization Act of 1996 also does not give the Authority legal cover to prevent access to 
websites or content (Annex E)


–  A simple marketing principle for the web is this: the more you talk about something, the more traction it gets. In essence what the YouTube ban has done is popularize an otherwise unknown video and filmmaker, and driven traffic to the offending video – contrary to what should have happened

–    Alternately, the simple solution would have been just not to watch the video or any such material; unless one makes an effort to go to the specific URL, the video will not just show up

–     Unlike television, on the Internet, accessing content is a matter of choice; unless one deliberately undertakes the task of searching for a particular video and presses the play button, one cannot watch it

–  In blocking the entire domain, Pakistani citizens have been prevented from accessing a lot of useful content hosted on the platform and continue to suffer as a result

–  Empowering the state to make decisions for what is permissible and what is not sets a dangerous precedent; personal morality and political preferences then become the yardstick

–  Spending millions on filtering technology which for one, does not work, and placing it in the hands of state authorities is equivalent to giving them a carte blanche for setting up roadblocks where they please, restricting access to areas and breaking into citizens’ homes

–  The right to privacy, dignity, security, speech and information will be severely compromised, doled out at the state’s discretion

–  Self-regulation at the home-level is a better option than state regulation

Short-term solution: Interstitials as a solution to lift the ban on YouTube.

Long-term solution: The government and stakeholders work together to enable citizens to better control their access to the Internet, by raising awareness on safe Internet surfing including freely available tools, or alternately work to provide such tools and services, for example value added services, that users can opt for.



Senate Committee Resolution Seeks to Lift YouTube Ban – DAWN

Senate Human Rights Committee Passes Resolution to Lift Ban on YouTube – Bolo Bhi


NA Unanimously Approves Resolution for Lifting Ban on YouTube – DAWN

NA Unanimously Passes Resolution to Lift Ban on YouTube – Bolo Bhi

Opposition Unites to Lift Ban on YouTube

MOIT Says It Will Comply With Court – But Has It?


PTA Chairman pleads for YouTube Ban Lifting – The Nation

No Way to Block Internet Content, NA Told – Dawn


Lifting the YouTube Ban in Pakistan – A Possible Solution by Khurram Zafar


Why the YouTube Ban is Illegal and Undesirable by Babar Sattar

 See Related Posts Here:

1. Summary of hearings April 12 and 26

2. Submissions to court made by Bolo Bhi up to July 4, 2013 

3. Submission by amicus Khurram Zafar on home-based blocking vs state

4. Google’s letter to court

5. PTA’s submission to court – July 25:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

6. Joint submission by Farieha Aziz and Khurram Zafar

7. Bolo Bhi’s submission to court on educational value of content available on YouTube (Part 1) – August 2, 2013:

Part 1

Part 2: Letters by 4 individuals – August 2, 2013:

Toffee TV

Salman Ansari

Imtiaz Noor

Muhammad Ismail

Interim order by Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah


Pakistan’s advertising industry is no stranger to controversy. From lawn advertisements outraging conservative sensibilities due to supposedly provocative imagery, to witty sanitary napkin ads( based on Wikileaks), there’s always a product or an ad that is  debated upon furiously. The current ad being discussed, however, is controversial, not because of the content of the advertisement but rather, the product being hawked.

Renowned television chef Zubeida Tariq,  popularly known as Zubeida Aapa, has become the spokesperson for a “fairness soap” with the tagline, ‘ab gora hoga Pakistan.’ (Now, Pakistan will be fair skinned). The accompanying television commercial shows various women, young and old, clearly depressed and dejected.  Zubeida Aapa appears in a crowd of miserable women, as a female narrator proclaims that “people look beautiful when they are happy” and that Zubeida Aapa’s soap will make everyone’s skin white and beautiful. The ad ends with the miserable women happily cheering for Zubeida Aapa, saying, ab gora hoga Pakistan! (Now, Pakistan will be fair skinned)Zubeida Aapa Pale Realities:  Pakistans Obsession With Fair Skin

The ad in itself is no more offensive than any other skin whitening products. Like many before her, she is joining the bandwagon of a lucrative industry that is only expected to grow in the coming years, and in a society where wealth is power, who can blame her? One individual cannot bear the brunt of all criticism since it results in deflecting from the real issue at hand, which is the popularity of fairness creams, and the question of why our culture denigrates South Asian colored skin as much as it does. The problem is Asian in nature, rather than global; analysis of famous cosmetic companies shows that fairness creams and skin-whitening products from companies such as Nivea, L’Oreal, Ponds and others aggressively target Asian markets, rather than the Western market. (Much has to be said about the Western obsession with skin tanning, but that can be an entire post on its own)

The South Asian obsession with a fair complexion is perceived by many to be a result of post-colonialism. Almost 67 years after independence from British imperialists, the shadow of the British Empire hangs over us in the form of internalized colonialism. The roots of this obsession could be traced back to British imperialism, when privilege and an elevated status were indicated by the whiteness of your skin. As Afifa Faisal writes in The News, in 19th century Hindustan, whitening soaps represented a way for women to achieve the high status of white British women. “By removing from the skin the ‘stigma’ of dark skin, whitening creams correlate light skin with beauty and socioeconomic progress,” Afifa writes, but British colonialism ended long ago. So why does this obsession with fairness still remain?

It is a classic case of colourism, where privileges are awarded to members of society with lighter skin, while dark-skinned individuals lack privileges. Our advertisements mirror colourism, with dark-skinned women suffering in some way or the other, until a fairness product  miraculously lightens their skin color which instantly brightens (pun-intended) their future (they get married happily/ get a successful job/become popular).

Skin color, therefore, is portrayed and perceived  as an indicator of a particular social hierarchy within which those with lighter skin possess the privilege of an elevated socioeconomic status. The fact that fairness cream is used more by women is easy enough to understand, considering that within the patriarchal structure of our society, women already possess an inferior status and the concept of fair skin has long been the standard for beauty.

In a culture where women are  perceived as commodities, it is not so baffling to understand the pursuit of a fairer complexion. As Rafia Zakaria opines in Dawn, “looking like the people who once subjugated us is a remnant of Pakistani culture’s inability to move on from the idea that to be powerful, one must look the part.” As toxic as the Pakistani hatred for the West may be, it still isn’t powerful enough to wipe out decades of colonial enslavement, especially when the patriarchy’s obsession with objectifying women perpetuates that enslavement.

Even without our colonial history, the constant onslaught of Western standards of beauty through mass media are contributing towards an obsession with women’s appearance. American feminist Naomi Wolf deconstructed what she called “The Beauty Myth” in her book of the same name. She posited that as women gained more rights in America, the idea of beauty was being enforced through the cosmetic and fashion industry as the last of traditional, feminine ideologies used to oppress women. “The gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood.” Women were gaining access to public spheres such as the workplace, winning the right to vote, countering patriarchal concepts of religion, negotiating equal career opportunities. The only control left for the patriarchy was that of women’s beauty. Thus, all the punishments and taboos women had abolished for themselves, were reconstructed in the form of an obsession with their faces and bodies. Thus, the Western model for beauty became a white-skinned, half-starved model or actress with colored eyes, coated with layers of makeup, swathed with expensive branded clothes; a model emulated all across the world by women who, when assaulted by these images nonstop, developed insecurities with their own physical appearance. For Pakistani women, the blows come not only from internalized colonialism, but also, Western media.

That the beauty and fashion industry is oppressive and a tool of capitalist patriarchy, there is no doubt. And that is what makes these skin-whitening products so dangerous; the inherent violence of the beauty industry that they represent. The beauty industry operates by constantly assaulting women with images through mass media, reminding them of their non-existent inadequacies and failings. It then ensures that women, rather than engaging in the dangerous pastime of thinking creatively and intelligently, are trapped in a cage of insecurity and trying to break out by conforming to the standards of beauty thrust upon them. The self-loathing and poor body-image that results from this process is a vicious cycle wherein women attempt to be beautiful, youthful and desirable; in a South Asian context, this beauty and desirability will get you a good marriage, career opportunities, popularity, social status, etc. These same myths about beauty are mirrored in whitening cream ads as well, and contribute to the oppression of women since women cannot reach their full potential when they are busy striving towards impossible, and even unhealthy standards of beauty.

Dark Is Beautiful Pale Realities:  Pakistans Obsession With Fair Skin

Poster from Nandita Das’s Campaign

Why is it then that, despite frequent criticism of the skin-whitening, cosmetic industry, Pakistanis do not take it as a serious threat? Our neighbor India certainly has; In 2013, a law student in Bangalore filed a case against the manufacturer of an Indian crayons brand for unlawful trade practices, because beige crayon was labelled as ‘skin’ color, which he felt was a perpetuated obsession with fair complexion. Actress Nandita Das became the face of a campaign called “Dark Is Beautiful,” an initiative of Indian NGO Women of Worth, exhorting women to ‘Stay Unfair, Stay Beautiful.” In an interview with the Times of India, Nandita discussed the obsession with fairness in Bollywood, and how she’d often be asked to whiten her complexion for a movie role because her character was supposed to be educated and successful, a marker of the socioeconomic connotations of a fair complexion.

While Pakistanis on social media have welcomed the campaign, the internet represents a small portion of the society, and without similar campaigns on Pakistani soil, the message will not be driven home in any case. Nor can we prioritize the needs of women based on other gender-based problems such as female illiteracy or violence against women(VAW). What point is there for education after all, when beauty standards still hold educated women back? How can we fight violence against women when we deny psychological violence? Being told, since childhood, that you are lacking because of your appearance, from friends, family, and the society is a violent theft of all sense of self-worth, thereby conditioning a woman to be a passive victim at the hands of abusers. It is high time that we as a society recognize the skin-whitening industry as a symbol of oppressive standards that even ensnares men in its net, and one that cannot be allowed to fulfill the predictions of its growth at any cost.

Update: Zubeida Tariq recently spoke about the whitening soap ad in an interview for Dawn. She agrees that the tagline ‘ab gora hoga Pakistan’ is problematic and says that she asked for the tagline to be removed. While the company behind the soap is now changing this tagline, Zubeida Tariq points out the double standards of society, where a whitening soap is criticized to the point of hurling abuse at it’s spokesperson, but advertisements which commodify women to sell products are acceptable in mainstream society.

The internet cannot be controlled by any one country, despite the best efforts of several governments. As the Snowden leaks reveal, State efforts to control the cyberspace can quickly turn into massive surveillance programmes that infringe on individual rights; a phenomenon quite familiar to Pakistan.

Since 2006, authorities in Pakistan have intermittently blocked social media websites such as Facebook and YouTube for various reasons [See Bolo Bho’s E-Regulation Timeline]. The longest ban Pakistan has ever experienced is the infamous YouTube ban, which was enforced in September 2012 in reaction to the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” posted on YouTube. The ban continues to this day, despite uproar from activists and organizations including Bolo Bhi. In early 2014, the government took the ban one step further by banning VPN software such as Spotflux, to prevent access to blocked sites.Read Bolo Bhi’s analysis of the VPN blockage here.]

The  Snowden leaks revealed how the NSA’s surveillance programmes that went beyond  espionage in the name of admittedly dubious national interest, and turned into massive  surveillance of American as well as foreign citizens. In an episode of “Ab Tou Bolo Bhi” [Bolo Bhi’s flagship TV show] that discussed internet regulation and the Internet Governance Forum in Bali (IGF), Barrister Zahid Jamil defended espionage by pointing out that it was a practice pursued by all countries for the sake of national interest and was not  a breach of international law. Sana Saleem countered this argument by pointing out that while espionage may be accepted as the necessary pursuit of private information, “to tap phone calls of a country’s civilians, that’s massive surveillance and  a violation of freedom of expression and speech.” The many ways in which Pakistan has limited and censored the internet for its citizens has started a domino effect where netizens in Pakistan are experiencing increased access denial. Pakistan now stands at a risk of becoming a police state with massive surveillance programmes targeted towards users of the internet and other communication technologies.

One example of Pakistan’s descent into surveillance chaos is that o“The Investigation for Fair Trial Act” that was introduced aa  counter-terrorism measure but, in fact, is a flawed law with far too many loopholes.Sana Saleem pointed out that the law was possibly rushed through because intelligence agencies needed to submit wiretapped information as proof in pending legal cases, whereas Zahid Jamil opined that the Fair Trial law had limited intelligence officiala great deal, and rather than making intelligence-gathering more convenientit had restricted officials and did not benefit anyone in any way. Another analysis of thee ffectivity of the law was by Journalist Maham Javaiwho dissected the law in detail.

In early 2014, draft of “Cyber Crimes Act 2014” was made public. The proposed law introduced severe punishments for minor offences, along with amendments to existing laws. Founder of Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) Nighat Dad described it as fragile and extreme in an op-ed, pointing out that the law was based on the “Indian Information Technology Act 2000” which itself came under fire for encroaching on the privacy of Indian citizens. Bolo Bhi also released a statement criticizing the law, and published a detailed analysis of it.

For the past many years and especially after the Snowden revelations, the global community working on internet freedom and privacy issues has increased focus on  counter-surveillance campaigns. A coalition of privacy organizations led by Privacy International, Access, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation introduced the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance as “Necessary and Proportionate Principles” to minimize surveillance measures around the world and bring them under judicial oversight. If Pakistan were to adopt similar principles in governing the internet without crossing the delicate line between regulation and privacy violation, many of our biggest problems regarding internet censorship would be solved.

Pakistan fits into widely accepted stereotypes about it being a regressive state when it comes to internet regulation. It is unfortunate that authorities in Pakistan are not focused towards creating access, but rather are ensuring that privacy becomes a distant myth. There is little to no focus on increasing access to information as authorities seem to focus more on cracking down on content. Other than failing to formulate laws and policies that protect citizens and uphold their right to speech and access, there is also a lack of transparency and consultation wit, which hinders effective formulation of laws and policies.

Opposition parties have come out firing against the Protection of Pakistan Bill (PPO), vowing to block it in the Senate. The Bill, passed by the National Assembly, is expected to be tabled in the Senate during the session currently in progress. Amending the bill to “constitutionalize” it before passing it and challenge it in court if efforts to block it are unsuccessful, are also options being considered by opposition members.

Why the PPO?

The PPO was first introduced as law by the President of Pakistan under the recommendation of the ruling party on the  October 20, 2013. According to the government, the Bill seeks to strengthen security forces including the army, Frontier Corps, police and Rangers in the battle against terrorist in Pakistan. The Bill has come under harsh criticism due to what seems like an attempt to turn Pakistan into a police state wherein the ability and powers of the police and law-enforcement agencies  have been disproportionately increased.

Proponents of the law, however, have defended it as a necessary step to curb the security situation of the country where political, sectarian and religious acts of terrorism have been increasing over the last decade. Supporters of the Bill have also argued it stands in line with precedents set in countries such as the US and UK. The US PATRIOT Act was passed only weeks after 9/11 in order to strengthen local law-enforcement agencies in combating home-grown and international terrorist threats to the US. Similarly, the Anti-terrorism Crime and Security Act 2001, was introduced in the United Kingdom.

What has largely been ignored by both the government and supporters of the Bill here are the severe implications. The consequences of this legislation on citizens’ rights will be far reaching if introduced in its current form:

In a discussion on the PPO on Siyasat Aur Qanoon, aired on April 12, the following concerns and required safeguards were raised by lawyer, Babar Sattar:

1) The government has failed to create a balance between policing powers and individual liberties.

2) The PPO reverses burden of proof and puts onus on accused vs accuser. Onus of proof should not be reversed. Accused should not have to prove he/she is innocent.   

3) The preventive detention mechanism needs have oversight – even if the oversight is confidential – so at least the detainees’ status is known to the family.

Watch full show here:

Let’s have a look at some of the problematic clauses of the PPO:

Search, seizure and arrest

3 (2)         (b) any police officer , a member of the armed forces or civil armed forces acting in aid of civil authority may  arrest, without warrant, any person who has committed a scheduled offence or against whom a reasonable suspicion or credible information exists that he has committed, or is about to commit any such act or offence; and

3 (2)         (c) any such officer may enter and search, without warrant any premises to make any arrest or to take possession of any property, fire-arm, weapon or article used, or likely to be used, in the commission of any scheduled offence.

Firstly, sections 3(2) (b) and 3(2) (c) allow law-enforcement agencies to act on mere suspicion and detain individuals and/or search their property. Section 3(2)(c) allows for search and arrest without requiring a warrant. A warrant is a required safeguard that ensures investigating and law-enforcement agencies do not transgress their boundaries and misuse their powers. Those who cite the example of the US Patriot Act fail to mention that such excessive powers are not given even there. The provision for “secret” warrants exists, and law-enforcement agencies are required to apply for them. The PPO doesn’t make provision for even this.  Secondly, vague terms such as  ‘reasonable suspicion’ and ‘credible information’ are vague clauses and the determination has been left to the discretion of law-enforcement agencies whereas at least magistrate-level discretion should be exercised.

Arbitrary Detention

6) The Government may by an order in writing issued by the Secretary Ministry of Interior, or any officer, not below the rank of BPS-21, specifically designated in this behalf, authorize the preventive detention of a person for a period not exceeding ninety days if there are grounds to infer that such person is acting in a manner prejudicial to the integrity, security, defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, or external affairs of Pakistan, or public order or maintenance of supplies and services;

Section 6 of the PPO allows for preventive detention, whereby individuals can be detained for up to 90 days without anyone knowing they are being held. In a country where missing persons (people detained without cause or knowledge of any court or authority by intelligence/security agencies) is already a pressing concern, the Bill will only serve to legitimize detention of people without cause for a lengthy period of time. And since no record of the detention will exist, the scope for abuse of this clause will extend to ridiculous heights. In the United Kingdom, control order which endowed the Home Secretary with limited powers of authorizing arbitrary detention was abolished in 2011 by the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act of 2011.

Burden of Proof

14. Burden of proof.- An accused facing the charge of a scheduled offence on existence of reasonable evidence against him, shall be presumed to be engaged in waging war or insurrection against Pakistan unless he establishes his non-involvement in the offence.

Section 14 of the PPO goes so far as to say “an accused shall be presumed to be engaged in waging war…unless he establishes his non-involvement.” This contravenes the fundamental principle of law where an accused is innocent until proven guilty – and it is not his/her job to prove his/her innocence; rather the accuser’s to prove the charge. If allowed in its current form, the PPO will deny citizens’ the fundamental right to a fair trial. It will put pressure on citizens who may not even have resources to fight a case, to protect themselves. Not only will the constitutional guarantee to a fair trial be subverted, but individual autonomy will be compromised due to the fear of presupposition of guilt of an innocent action.

Scheduled Offences

(1) The following acts, if committed with the purpose of waging war against Pakistan or threatening the security of Pakistan shall be the scheduled offences and includes other offences relating to:

(i)        acts that are calculated to influence or affect the conduct of Government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against  government conduct;

The problem with this definition is the lack of clarity. A fervent protest against the government may be arguably an act calculated to influence the conduct of the government. A strike and refusal to conduct business in protest for example certainly affects the government. Should government action or conduct not be the subject of legitimate criticism? Isn’t it the right of citizens to object and influence government conduct when they feel the government is in the wrong?

(xiv)  crimes against computers including cyber crimes, internet offenses and other offences related to information technology etc;

This clause vaguely alludes to ‘offenses without going to any detail. There currently exists no law in Pakistan where these are described. A cybercrime law is already being considered which contains detail of offenses, punishments and methods of investigation – some of which still need to be brought in line with the rights’ perspectives.  In the absence of clear definitions, this vaguely phrased clause will serve to infringe on rights and further stifle discourse online.


Supporters of the PPO have argued in favour of eliminating bureaucratic hurdles that will, in their view, only enable security forces to perform their duties more efficiently. The problem with this assumption is that it fails to take into consideration the lack of necessary checks and balances or safeguards.

As argued by Babar Sattar, draconian steps in the past such as the terrorism bill introduced by the Sharif government in the ’90s failed to yield any results whatsoever and sectarian strife is arguably worse today than it was back then. Similarly, illegal wire-tap and surveillance has been going on for years – now legitimized by the Fair Trial Act . That too, has not yielded desired results otherwise they would have been evident by now. Legitimizing misuse of power is not a solution.