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Pakistani journalists shout slogans during a protest against the killing of journalist Aziz Memon in the southern seaport city of Karachi on February 17

International media freedom watchdogs are urging Pakistani authorities to ensure that the killing of a journalist whose body was found in an irrigation waterway does not go unpunished.

Aziz Memon’s body was found with wire tied around the neck on February 16 near his hometown of Mehrabpur, in the southwestern province of Sindh. The initial investigation suggested he was strangled to death before his body was thrown into the canal.

In a statement on February 17, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the “murder…deserves swift justice, which is something Pakistani authorities have repeatedly failed to deliver for journalists.”

A reporter for KTN TV and the newspaper Kawish, which are owned by Pakistan’s largest Sindhi-language media group, Memon is the first Pakistani journalist to be killed this year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). It said four Pakistani journalists and a blogger were killed last year in connection with their reporting.

Memon was last seen when he set off on February 15 to do some reporting in the nearby locality of Behlani.

The Paris-based RSF quoted fellow journalist Akhlaiq Jokhiyo as saying that both he and Memon’s wife believed he was targeted in connection with his reporting.

Months ago, Memon released a video message saying he was receiving threats for his coverage of a news story.

The threats seem to have been triggered by his coverage of the so-called Train March, a campaign of protests and rallies organized nearly a year ago by the opposition Pakistan Peoples’ Party, according to RSF.

Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, urged Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah to do “everything possible” to ensure that those responsible for the killing are brought to justice.

Meanwhile, the federal government and parliament should “quickly finalize a law protecting journalists and combatting impunity, in order to rein in the spiral of violence against media personnel,” Bastard said.

“Given the victim’s previous allegations of threats from local officials, it is essential that the investigation be free from political meddling,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler.

Pakistan ranked 8th on CPJ’s 2019 Global Impunity Index, with 16 unsolved killings of journalists in the past 10 years.

Of the 34 journalists who were murdered for their work since 1992, partial justice has been achieved in only three cases, according to the watchdog.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

FILE: Facebook logo is reflected in the glasses of a Pakistani user.

Global Internet giants, rights watchdogs, journalists, and activists have opposed Pakistan’s sweeping new rules for regulating social media.

The regulations, adopted by the federal cabinet late last month, were notified last week. They seek to establish complete government control over social media platforms, a move that many see as ultimately aimed at silencing dissent and curbing online free speech.

“First and foremost, we wish to express our sincere concern that unless revoked, these rules will severely cripple the growth of Pakistan's digital economy,” Jeff Paine, the managing director of Asia Internet Coalition (AIC), noted in an open letter to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The AIC is an association of leading IT companies including Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Amazon, AirBnb, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Yahoo, Grab, LinkedIn, and Rakuten.

In his February 15 letter, Paine noted that the rules are vague and arbitrary. “The rules demand that social media companies deviate from established human rights practices concerning user privacy and freedom of expression,” he noted, urging Islamabad “to initiate a proper public consultation to ensure wider participation to develop a new set of rules.”

The letter warns Islamabad of impending consequences if it fails to review the regulations.

“The rules as currently written would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses,” the letter said. “No other country has announced such a sweeping set of rules, Pakistan risks becoming a global outlier, needlessly isolating and depriving Pakistani users and businesses from the growth potential of the internet economy.”

AIC’s response came after the Pakistani government adopted a new set of rules called the Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020. They detail unprecedented rules for social media companies essentially requiring them to regulate content, provide user data, and immediately comply with official requests of content removal. The new rules require tech giants to establish offices and servers in the country. The regulations can also slap fines of more than $3 million for violations.

“We urge the government of Pakistan to consider the potential consequences of the rules in order to prevent unexpected negative impacts on Pakistan’s economy,” the AIC letter noted.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a leading nongovernmental watchdog, however, is worried that the authorities want to use the regulations to control the “freedom of expression and opinion in the guise of protecting ‘religious, cultural, ethnic, and national security sensitivities.’”

HRCP says that after imposing extensive censorship on print and electronic media, the new rules are aimed at controlling social media, which was the last vestige of free space. “Instituting such stringent rules will contract the space that exists for citizens to access information that the mainstream media does not, or cannot, provide,” a February 14 statement noted.

Journalist Hamid Mir, a leading TV presenter, says the new rules will create a headache for Khan’s government by maligning it internationally. “This law was not discussed in parliament, its enforcement without any discussion is [also] a contempt for Parliament and constitution,” he tweeted.

Lawmaker Maleeka Bukhari, the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf political party’s parliamentary secretary for law and justice, acknowledged that the growing criticism of the rules might prompt authorities to reexamine them.

“It is clear that many journalists, social media activists, and international organizations do not agree with this law [rules], so the government has to review its plan,” she told the private Hum TV.

It is still not clear whether the government plans to scrap the new rules or is open to holding public consultations and debate them in the parliament.

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