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Watchdog Blasts Pakistan's 'Draconian' New Effort To 'Control' Social Media

According to RSF, the Internet is regarded as the "only remaining space for free speech and independent journalism" in Pakistan. (file photo)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is calling on Pakistan to immediately withdraw a “draconian” new set of regulations that it said will give authorities “the right to control and censor any type of message" posted on social-media platforms.

Analysis of the rules published last month “reveals alarming legal pitfalls,” including “extremely vague definitions, the provision of absolute powers to the government, and a lack of legal recourse for those targeted,” the Paris-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on November 2.

According to RSF, the Internet is regarded as the "only remaining space for free speech and independent journalism" in Pakistan, which ranked 145th out of 180 countries in the watchdog's World Press Freedom Index.

The regulations proposed by the government and published on October 14 refer to the guarantees for freedom of expression in Pakistan’s constitution, but they also affirm the need to ban any “violation” of this freedom regarding matters such as the “glory of Islam,” the “security of Pakistan,” and “integrity or defense” of the country.

Such “vague concepts” provide the government-controlled media regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), with “a blank check to censor any content that is not to the authorities’ liking,” according to RSF.

The new set of rules gives the PTA the power to unilaterally decide to block a social-media platform such as Facebook and Twitter and fine it up to 500 million rupees ($2.9 million).

It also gives the federal and provincial governments as well as Pakistan’s intelligence agencies the right to ask the PTA to have content removed or accounts blocked.

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, urged Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to amend the new regulations without delay “so as to incorporate strong safeguards for the freedom to provide news and information.”

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