- The watchdog states there were connectivity restrictions and increased disinformation in the 2018 general election in Pakistan.
- It expressed concern over government’s surveillance and social media monitoring and continued lack of data protection laws in the country.
- Pakistan’s score was 26 on a scale of 100, which classified it to be among the states where internet is “not free”.
(Karachi) Internet freedom has declined in Pakistan due to the increased blocking of political, social, and cultural websites, said human rights watchdog Freedom House in its annual report on internet freedom across the world.
The report, which assessed 65 countries that account for 87 per cent of internet users worldwide, stated that global internet freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year as “populist leaders and their armies of online supporters seek to distort politics at home”.
Of the countries surveyed, only 15 were classified as “free”, 29 “partly free” and 21 “not free”.
The annual report on online freedom, focusing on developments that occurred between June 2018 and May 2019, found that domestic election interference marred the online landscape in 26 of the 30 countries studied that held elections over the past year.
The watchdog said that there were connectivity restrictions and increased disinformation in the 2018 general election in Pakistan. Among its key findings the report noted that the Pakistani authorities had shut down mobile and internet service during protests and in the lead-up to the July 2018 general elections.
The report also highlighted that over 800,000 websites were blocked, including political, religious, and social content.
The report said that bots supporting various political parties emerged before the July 2018 general elections.
The organisation also said, “The government increased social media monitoring, announcing a new system to target extremism, hate speech, and antinational content.” It also noted that activists and bloggers faced physical attacks and death threats from June 2018 till May 2019.
Pakistan’s score was 26 on a scale of 100, which classified it to be among the states where internet is “not free” for its score on Obstacle to Access (limited penetration because of underdeveloped infrastructure), Limits on Content (online content is restricted by the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which authorises the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to undertake content management) and Violation of User Rights (intimidation, blackmail, and at times violence, in response to online activity).
In its assessment of obstacles to internet access, the report highlighted that Pakistan’s underdeveloped infrastructure has caused problems in internet penetration rates, especially in the rural areas. But it did mention that mobile internet access is increasing in the country.
It also discussed the disabling of the internet access during times of “perceived unrest” and the long-term denial of service in country’s marginalised areas persisted.
The report emphasized that social media platforms, communication tools, and other online tools contribute to a vibrant online space. But it noted that the online content is restricted in Pakistan under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA).
The report said, “Blocking of political content without transparency continued during the reporting period, including of websites relating to the general election. Disinformation and manipulated content continued to proliferate online, also ramping up around the vote.”
The report deplored that PECA and other laws have restricted users’ rights, adding that their rights were frequently violated during the report’s coverage period.
It expressed concern over the government’s surveillance and social media monitoring and the continued lack of data protection laws in the country. The report also said that users continue to face intimidation, blackmail, and at times violence, in response to online activity.