ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression (ARTICLE 19) is an international, freedom of expression organisation with an observer status with ECOSOC. ARTICLE 19 has a regional office for South Asia based in Bangladesh and has been actively engaged in issues relating to freedom of expression and information in Pakistan for over 12 years. BoloBhi is a not-for-profit organisation that was set up to focus on the areas of Advocacy, Policy and Research and has been speaking up for Internet freedom, human rights, women’s rights, women’s empowerment and against gender based violence.
During the first UPR review of Pakistan, numerous countries raised freedom of expression-related issues including on the use of the blasphemy laws and impunity relating to the murders and disappearances of journalists and human rights defenders. Pakistan accepted recommendations to “combat impunity for attacks on human rights defenders by effectively investigating allegations and by prosecuting those responsible” to “review laws and measures to ensure that restrictions imposed on freedom of expression are in conformity with the ICCPR to which Pakistan is signatory”, to effectively address repressing antiterrorism legislation on the work of human rights defenders, and to consider establishing national system of human rights defenders protection.
Given the expertise of ARTICLE 19 and BoloBhi this submission focuses on the progress on these issues and also outlines further concerns on Pakistan’s compliance with its international human rights obligations in respect of freedom of expression and freedom of information, in particular violence against journalists and human rights defenders and failure to adequately investigate and punish those responsible; continued misuse of blasphemy laws, especially against religious minorities; excessive restrictions on online speech; overly broad broadcasting regulations resulting in the arbitrary shutdown of many broadcasters and cable stations and the banning of content; lack of progress in developing effective legislation on freedom of informationand limits on communications privacy.
We welcome that in June 2010, Pakistan ratified the ICCPR. In addition, Pakistan should also be recognized for the amendments to Article 19 of the Constitution, which provides the right of citizens to information “on all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law” and the current efforts to create a new National Human Rights Commission.