Pakistan bans negative posts on social media

Journalists, rights activists warn of increasing online censorship in the Islamic republic

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Updated: October 18, 2021 04:54 AM GMT

Pakistani employees of online marketplace company Kaymu at work in Karachi. (Photo: AFP)

Journalists and human rights activists are warning of increasing online censorship as Pakistan's government unveils new regulations for social media companies.

Under the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and Safeguards) Rules, 2021, notified last week, negative content related to any person will not be uploaded, while social media companies will have to abide by Pakistani laws, establish an office in the Islamic republic and will be given 48 hours to remove or block access to online content.

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Last year tech companies had threatened to discontinue their services in Pakistan if the rules were not amended, saying the regulations would make it difficult for them to continue their operations.

The Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan strongly condemned the amended social media rules.

We believe that the government has done literally nothing to reassure the protesting journalists and has refused to consider the concerns repeatedly highlighted by media bodies. This uncompromising attitude of the government is a reflection of the mindset that refuses to allow fair criticism and is adamant on controlling the flow of information in a country already fighting tough battles against extremism, economic insecurity and the constant threat to democracy, it stated in a press release.

The real affectees of the draconian new rules will be journalism platforms and media consumers whose legitimate interests of holding power bearers to account and right to freedom of expression have been severely curtailed. This is anathema to Pakistan's fundamental constitutional guarantees and is aimed at dragging down the country into the list of bottom-most states that rule their citizens through fear rather than making them central to policymaking and development.

These media rules will hurt the government itself. Tech companies won't open local offices without accommodations

Peter Jacob, former executive secretary of the Catholic bishops' National Commission for Justice and Peace, also termed it a failed strategy.

It will result in more negative headlines. One wonders what makes the government think of such failed initiatives. These media rules will hurt the government itself. Tech companies won't open local offices without accommodations, he told UCA News.

In 2016, Pakistan lifted a three-year ban on YouTube following a court order that sought to prohibit online content considered blasphemous by Muslims such as the low-budget film Innocence of Muslims.

In April, social media platforms were blocked for four hours amid violent protests by activists of the radical Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik group after the arrest of its leader Saad Rizvi.

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