Pakistan bottom of the barrel on net freedom: Report

Published: October 3, 2013

Government creating and installing new equipment to systemise website blocking and filtering, new report finds. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

KARACHI: Pakistan is among the bottom ten countries in the Freedom on the Net 2013 report, which measures the level of internet and digital media freedom in 60 countries. The annual report is carried out by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization.

In the new report, each country received a numerical score from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free), which serves as the basis for internet freedom status. Pakistan received a score of 67 and status ‘not free’, whereas Iceland was at the top with a score of just 6.

The Pakistan section of the report was conducted just after the elections held on May 11, 2013 and covered the developments regarding internet freedom between the time period May 2012 – April 2013. It was researched and compiled by Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan along with research analysts of Freedom House.

“Pakistan remains one of the worst countries when it comes to online freedom of speech, user rights and citizens’ privacy”, commented Digital Rights Foundation Executive Director, Nighat Dad.  “In the past year, state has been rigorously trying to implement the best of surveillance set-ups to create a kind of watchdog upon activists, journalists and a common citizen on the name of war against terrorism. Pakistan’ civil society, despite being faced with threats and vicious consequences, is strongly fighting against the state-employed policies and technologies that can hurt Pakistani citizen”.

Main findings

Even though the number of internet users in the country is increasing, the Pakistan report states that there have been various political and social obstacles by successive governments that came into power, in the name of fighting terrorism and preserving Islam.

This has caused problems for many civil rights activists, students and other such personnel who want to engage in intensive multimedia training, the report concluded.

According to the report:

“Legal measures also threatened digital rights, particularly over sensitive religious issues. At least two of the 23 criminal investigations launched in 2012 under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws—which carry the death penalty—involved content sent by mobile phone. A Twitter spat escalated into a defamation suit after a political website accused a religious leader of inciting hatred”.

Obstacles to access

According to the report, “Low literacy, difficult economic conditions, and cultural resistance have limited the proliferation of ICTs in Pakistan. Poor copper wire infrastructure and inadequate monitoring of service quality by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) have historically stymied the expansion of broadband internet.”

Only urban cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar have access to better quality broadband services, the report found.

Additionally, the report cited “bureaucratic hurdles” as having caused a problem for development of 3G or 4G networks.

Access to the internet has been deliberately obstructed by the Pakistani authorities in Balochistan where there has been persistent conflict between the Baloch nationalists and the security forces, the report stated.

Limits on content

Some of the major developments by the government in 2012 and 2013 included creating and installing new equipment to systemise website blocking and filtering, the report found.

Despite such blocking, the report concluded that Pakistanis have relatively open access to international news organizations and other independent media, as well as a range of websites representing Pakistani political parties, local civil society groups, and international human rights organizations.

“Nevertheless, most online commentators exercise a degree of self-censorship when writing on topics such as religion, blasphemy, separatist movements, and women’s and LGBT rights,” it added.

Surveillance

Ordinary internet users as well as activists, bloggers, and media representatives in Balochistan are concerned about government surveillance as they feel restricted to openly talk about their religious beliefs, particularly atheists.

In February 2013, the upper house of parliament passed the Fair Trial Act 2012 allows security agencies to seek a judicial warrant to monitor private communications “to neutralize and prevent threat or any attempt to carry out scheduled offenses;” and covers information sent from or received in Pakistan or between Pakistani citizens whether they are resident in the country or not. Under the law, service providers face a one-year jail term or a fine of up to PKR 10 million for failing to cooperate with the warrant.

According to the report, “Pakistan is also reported to be a long-time customer of Narus, a US-based firm known for designing technology that allows for monitoring of traffic flows and deep-packet inspection of internet communications, and some media reports say Pakistani authorities have also acquired surveillance technology from China.”

Reader Comments (43)

  • ironMan!
    Oct 3, 2013 - 3:35PM

    doesn’t bother me really…but I wish we stood same as China in technological advances too (sigh)

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  • Aalu
    Oct 3, 2013 - 3:39PM

    That’s positive. Not every site is appropriate to view. No matter what age group one belongs to! Good Work!

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  • Mj
    Oct 3, 2013 - 3:41PM

    10 out of 17 bottom ranked countries have a majority Muslim population…

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  • Zaid Hamid
    Oct 3, 2013 - 3:46PM

    Yes! Finally we can compete with our best friends Saudi Arabia and China on something.

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  • Fayez
    Oct 3, 2013 - 3:52PM

    False report, I live in UAE and I know how much internet restriction they have, you cant even comment on anything. compared to when I lived in Pakistan, every site is accessible. apart from obvious Youtube ban

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  • Oct 3, 2013 - 3:54PM

    That’s very good that PTA blocked all ADULT sites.block all sites those are against Islam.

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  • bashir
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:09PM

    @Mj;
    what does freedom of speech have to do with Islam. people just want to find a reason…but that is expected(there were many who did the same among the first generation,1400 years back)

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  • HUM
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:27PM

    @Aalu:
    Yes and we need government to tell us what we should view or not view. Government motives are not to save you from bad content, it is to stifle the free opinion and monitor. It is against the idea of freedom

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  • P Khan
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:35PM

    You can view any site you want with the right tools.

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  • FACT
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:38PM

    @HUM:

    Why do we need so much freedome on NET. Don’t be apologetic by viewing a report from western media.

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  • sani
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:50PM

    Proud to be at the bottom of this stupid chart.

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  • darbullah
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:54PM

    We don’t need internet.
    Our Arabic ancestors never had internet.

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  • Beyg
    Oct 3, 2013 - 4:59PM

    Is there any thing in which Pakistan has improved over the last years except terrorism…???

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  • usman786
    Oct 3, 2013 - 5:07PM

    atleast open straight pron sites

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  • Mj
    Oct 3, 2013 - 5:10PM

    @P Khan:
    Is it really freedom if you have to find work-arounds to access something which should not be restricted in the first place.

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  • Naveed Alam Khattak
    Oct 3, 2013 - 5:11PM

    That’s excellent…. We are fed up of this free. They have worsened the whole situation.

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  • HUM
    Oct 3, 2013 - 5:11PM

    @FACT:
    Sure I will consider such report if it ever came from eastern media. There is no eastern or western media, ere is only media with credibility. Furthermore the question is why shouldn’t we have freedoms? For free minds we need freedom to think and question and Internet is an ideal tool for that.

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  • Hasan
    Oct 3, 2013 - 6:32PM

    … And we just hit rock bottom today!

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  • Me
    Oct 3, 2013 - 6:53PM

    @mj what has religion got to do with it??

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  • Shahbaz
    Oct 3, 2013 - 7:00PM

    @usman786: Hahaha this actually made me laugh

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  • Raj - USA
    Oct 3, 2013 - 7:02PM

    @Fayez:
    I would agree with you. During my last visit to Dubai 7 years ago, I could not access some of Pakistan’s newspapers. I was not reading ET then. However, I could access most Indian newspapers. I am not sure it it was the government that was blocking it or if it was the internet servers at the hotel where I was staying that was blocking it.

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  • Khan
    Oct 3, 2013 - 7:26PM

    service zero bill one zero zero

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  • ashar
    Oct 3, 2013 - 7:29PM

    I love Iran

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  • Sivaramakrishna B
    Oct 3, 2013 - 8:04PM

    Pakistan seems to be plumbing new depths in a number of areas. Just yesterday Express Tribune (ET ) reported two stories. First that Pakistan was among the worst countries to grow old in per the UN and second that the Pakistani passport was among worst for travel per the Visa Restriction Index 2013.

    The URL’s of the ET articles follow:

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/612088/pakistan-among-the-worst-countries-to-grow-old-in-un/

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/612409/pakistani-passport-among-worst-for-travel-visa-restriction-index-2013/

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  • Oct 3, 2013 - 8:58PM

    last time I checked Pakistan was on top in Porn freedom.

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  • Oct 3, 2013 - 8:59PM

    btw, how can tribune decide Freedom house is unbiased when its head office is in Washington DC?

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  • Oct 3, 2013 - 9:01PM

    “Pakistani authorities have also acquired surveillance technology from China” – Beware now your toasters will record your thoughts.Recommend

  • Silvia Karimjee
    Oct 3, 2013 - 9:11PM

    Censorship & banning free speech is a dangerous slippery slide who decides what is good or bad? No matter how terrible the content free speech or it’s contend we can not send should not ban on grounds of religion a free society is one who tolerates all religions and ideas is a society that will prosper!.

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  • M. Emad
    Oct 3, 2013 - 10:04PM

    Just after his release from Pakistani jail in January 1972, about newly liberated Bangladesh Sheikh Mujib said in the first speech (in Indian capital New Delhi):

    Its a journey from prison to freedom, Its a journey from darkness to light, Its a journey from dark bottom of the barrel to open sea…

    How prophetic Sheikh Mujib Ur Rahman was! Pakistan still remain at the bottom of the barrel.

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  • It Is (still) Economy Stupid
    Oct 3, 2013 - 10:56PM

    They live in stone age and ask for civil nuclear technology and drone technology.

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  • Oct 3, 2013 - 10:58PM

    @Sivaramakrishna B:

    I am wondering if ET has been bought out by any Indian Media House. How come all of sudden it starts spreading negativity about Pakistan.

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  • Fahad Hafeez
    Oct 3, 2013 - 11:12PM

    With the latest ban on viop services we are going to go further down !

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  • Observer
    Oct 3, 2013 - 11:16PM

    @bashir:

    “what does freedom of speech have to do with Islam. people just want to find a reason…but that is expected(there were many who did the same among the first generation,1400 years back)”

    Freedom of speech means the freedom to have personal views on any subject, be able to talk openly and freely, and hold a differing view.

    Islam places very strong controls and edicts on the personal lives of Muslims. Can you freely speak about any aspects of Islam that you may find questionable? Why are there the blasphemy and apostasy laws?

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  • Muhammad
    Oct 4, 2013 - 1:15AM

    This is false! Other than YouTube, nothing is banned on the internet in Pakistan!

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  • Sabih Shad
    Oct 4, 2013 - 1:49AM

    Obviously the criteria is biased to favor the ideals of whoever is organizing/funding the research.

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  • manish rohera
    Oct 4, 2013 - 2:14AM

    @Mazhar:
    i don’t know why you guys are so obsessed with India seriously guys you need a break even the report shows we are partly free better than Pak but I don’t want to compete with you guys my question is why I’m not in top thirty we now want to compete western world we may be far behind them but when you compete pls compete with the best please don’t make your existence on not being India very dangerous for a country of 180 million.

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  • Siddiqui
    Oct 4, 2013 - 4:08AM

    It is a blessing in disguise. Pakistan at the same level with China, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. Internet need to be reigned in. Internet penetration in Pakistan as of now is much higher than the given figure.
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/567649/30m-internet-users-in-pakistan-half-on-mobile-report/

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  • Siddiqui
    Oct 4, 2013 - 4:23AM

    @Sivaramakrishna B: The economic bubble of India has been burst open. The GDP growth has fallen to a record low. It’s the regions that grows, not individuals countries. Take example of Europe, Far East(Japan S. Korea, China) , America(s), including Brazil. Not good for the neighboring countries either.

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Falling-economic-tide-in-India-is-exposing-its-chronic-troubles/articleshow/22322975.cms

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/05/business/global/indias-falling-economic-tide-exposes-its-chronic-troubles.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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  • Siddiqui
    Oct 4, 2013 - 4:27AM

    @manish rohera:
    It’s the other way round. Or should i say it goes both ways. It takes two to a tango.

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Falling-economic-tide-in-India-is-exposing-its-chronic-troubles/articleshow/22322975.cms

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  • anwar kamal
    Oct 4, 2013 - 8:03AM

    @Mj: Do not forget Bangladesh also muslim majority.

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  • Oct 5, 2013 - 4:45PM

    Kudos to all of us, living and struggling in muslim states.

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  • Oct 13, 2013 - 9:08AM

    There will be huge disputes about what constitutes freedom, especially on the Internet and we can expect that those who can argue the best can provide the public the kind of reasoning that will convince them to give up some amount of freedom for some higher ‘good’. With the kind of content proliferating in the market, especially user created content – videos, images, blogs, posts etc , the number of applications and sites handling these content, the layers of sharing and resharing and the number of users and devices, content control will be an interesting battle field should regulators and other overly concerned parties try to enforce rules and regulations. Deep Packet Inspection, which provides deeper insights on subscriber behaviour might see its role shifting from providing strategic business insights to providing content specific information upon which certain control policies can be enforced.

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