Pakistan Among Worst Countries for Internet Freedom in 2015

Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net report, conducted in 60 countries, examines the civil liberty, freedom and censorship trends in Pakistan over the past year. Scoring “Not Free” for Internet Freedom, 2015 marks the fourth consecutive year that Pakistan joins the host of nations share the same worst score, with policies that curtail freedom and civil liberties.

Extensively and methodically researched by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan in collaboration with Freedom House, the report compiles and analyses actions undertaken by the state to limit internet freedom, to violate user rights as well as the implementation of censorship in Pakistan. The 2015 edition of Freedom on the Net contains some of the following worrying highlights:

  • January 2015: The introduction of drafted cybercrime legislation, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, which includes overly broad definitions of criminal activity online, which could negatively impact freedom of expression and the right to privacy
  • March 2015: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif disbands an inter-ministerial committee responsible for censorship of ‘objectionable’ material, and authorises the government regulator to take oversight
  • The November 2014 arrest of a Christian (a religious minority in Pakistan) by police who had evaded blasphemy charges related to his blog for three years
  • The deaths in August 2014 of two journalists and a network account by unidentified gunmen in their offices in Balochistan
  • The leaking of data from the corporate surveillance firm, Hacking Team, revealing interactions with private sector representatives for Pakistani state security agencies, in regards to surveillance equipment that would work on older mobile phone models, amongst other details
  • The crackdown on unverified mobile SIM cards, and mandatory biometric verification protocols that were set in place, after a December 2014 attack on school that resulted in more than 150 children being killed

The government of Pakistan continues to take ever greater steps to gain further control over the digital spaces that its citizens use, ostensibly to protect them from terrorism and criminals. While it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens, it is also the paramount duty to ensure the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to civil liberties are protected. As the Freedom on the Net report will show, the government is taking further steps to further curtail these rights, to police democratic discourse and stifle dissenting voices that are already threatened offline.

Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation’s Executive Director, said:

The government of Pakistan often talks about bringing the nation into the 21st century, and is quick to point to its growing tech industry. But when it blocks websites and moves to clamp down on online discourse, not to mention criminalise ethical hacking, it is choking freedom of expression and the right to privacy back into an earlier, darker age in the nation’s history. The use of surveillance tech to monitor and control our access to the internet and to digital services in general would have a chilling effect on the way that we express ourselves online. Instead of being a safe space, it will be a panopticon, where we are always watched.

Madeline Earp, Asia Research analyst for Freedom on The Net, said:

We are troubled to report that Pakistan’s poor internet freedom score failed to improve in 2015. Communications shutdowns, violence, and blasphemy charges related to online content continue to restrict the environment for ordinary internet users. The government has also failed to lift the ongoing ban on YouTube.

Freedom on the Net and the research of Freedom House seek to address the failings of the state in protecting the rights of citizens, and by compiling and analyzing evidence that activists and concerned citizens can use to push for greater democracy online as well as offline.

​To view the country report on Pakistan in its entirety, please click here. To check out Digital Rights Foundation’s report, click here.

  • When will our government grow up…we’re lagging faaaar behind the rest of the world due to their idiocies

  • “And
    never will the Jews or the Christians approve of you until you follow
    their religion. Say, “Indeed, the guidance of Allah is the [only]
    guidance.” If you were to follow their desires after what has come to
    you of knowledge, you would have against Allah no protector or helper.”2:120

  • If allowing unregistered mobile phone SIMs go unchecked or having a terrorist using a SIM registered against our name is FREEDOM, I think we are better off without such kind of freedom. The news item you quoted is based on what SOMEONE wants and not what’s good for Pakistan. I am not saying that we have huge freedom but still we have much more freedom than Saudia etc. and as long as our lack of freedom is in favor of security of Pakistan, we shouldn’t be bothered about what some NGO etc is crying about.

  • It always saddens me whenever i read these types of reports about how Pakistan is the worst in “___”. Why do the people vote for the same terrible government that they know aren’t doing us any good, why can’t we as a nation for once be the leaders in innovation and freedom.

  • This country can only criticise and ban stuff because there is nothing productive they can do….

  • Pakistan has the worst reputation in the world for its conservative outlook to life….people avoid coming to Pakistan because of this

  • If you count porn then I am in the complete favor of blocking it and lashing those who blabs in its favor saying “It’s Internet Freedom”.

    • Devil’s advocate; Do people not have enough control over themselves to stop viewing porn? How has blocking porn sites helped?

      Everyone knows about proxies and VPNs now. When there is a will, there is a way.

      The people themselves – not the state – should decide what they want to view. State censorship has always been a slippery slope. It has always quelled public debate about controversial topics and critique of the government itself. The ban on PAT’s comes to mind.

      • No. You are completely wrong here. Not everyone knows about proxies and VPNs and I pray that everyone should not know about them either. There should be censor on porn but not on political debates.

        • The point I’m trying to make here is that those who watched porn before the censorship are still watching it using proxies and VPNs. Are you denying the fact that there is a huge uptick in the number of VPN users in Pakistan?

          Censorship by the state – in a sense – means blindfolding the public so as to act that the censored content doesn’t even exist. Do we not even trust ourselves?

          VPNs are not just used to open blocked sites. They are used to maintain privacy on the internet which is a fundamental right.

          I think we are clear enough thinkers to know right from wrong and don’t need a governing body to decide for us. But, of course, terrorist recruitment and propoganda websites e.g. those set up by ISIS should be blocked because they are a legitimate threat to national security. Porn sites do not hurt anyone. (and please don’t start about morality as that is just a social construct)

          And I’m just arguing for the sake of the argument. Please don’t lynch me for being a porn advocate :^)

  • “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.
    It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”
    Enough said.

  • I thought we are living in a independent country?

    Quaid declared himself as General of minorities. He said that Pakistan is a country made for every person irrespective of his religion.

    If we ban porn. We are going against his saying. What non muslims have to do with this ban? There religion allows them to watch porn.

    And if a person watches porn. That’s his decision. Allah is the only one to judge him. Not us. If he does it, let him do it.

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