A monthly report on trends relating to digital rights, policies, practices & media

Tracking: Internet and digital policies and regulations

Digitalization in governance and socio-economic domains

Digital rights violations and protections

Digital rights advocacy and defense

Digital media and online free speech

Vol. 3, No. 5 May 2023 Edition

Produced by Freedom Network –

SECTION 1: Internet and digital policies and regulations

  • Federal and provincial governments (ministries and departments)
  • Internet regulators
  • Media regulators
  • Telecom regulators
  • Internet access / connectivity

Pakistan ranks 118th among 140 states in mobile internet speed

Date: May 9, 2023 – Source: The News

Free internet in Pakistan remains a distant dream as published by Bytes For All (BFA) in a report that placed Pakistan 118th and 150th out of 140 states in terms of mobile internet speed and fixed broadband speed respectively.

Mobile internet services suspended across Pakistan to ‘quell mob violence’

Date: May 10, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: The News, Source 3: The Nation

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed all four cellular companies – Jazz, Zong4G, Telenor and Ufone – to suspend data service across the country to counter mob violence that erupted after Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan was arrested in Islamabad.

Access to social media platforms restricted in Pakistan

Date: May 10, 2023 – Source 1: The Guardian, Source 2: Al Jazeera, Source 3: Gulf Today

Access to social media platforms in Pakistan was restricted to stop dissemination of fake news and counter protests that broke out following the arrest of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan.

Unable to access the internet: Shutdown hits millions of Pakistanis

Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: Al Jazeera

Millions of Pakistani food delivery drivers, online service providers and students relying on the internet for revenue generation and education have been hit hard by the government’s decision to suspend mobile internet services across the country.

Government urged to restore internet as shutdown disrupts lives

Date: May 11, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Citizens and businesses urged the federal government to restore mobile data services, insisting that its absence was leading to great economic costs, affecting millions of citizens who have come to rely on the internet for everything from earning a living to paying bills.

Internet suspension in Pakistan: Telecom operators, government suffer significant loss

Date: May 11, 2023 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

The suspension of internet services in Pakistan resulted in an estimated revenue loss of Rs820 million for telecommunication operators, while the government lost around Rs287 million in tax revenue. Individuals who depend on digital applications also suffered a significant loss in earnings.

Internet blackout in Pakistan

Date: May 12, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The state needs to lift the internet blockade in Pakistan. While there may be genuine concerns about violent elements using the digital realm to spread havoc, there should be more intelligent options than to shut down access to internet completely.

Lahore High Court seeks replies from the federal government over internet suspension

Date: May 12, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: The News, Source 3: Express Tribune

The Lahore High Court (LHC) sought replies from the federal government and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on a petition challenging the suspension of internet service and access to different social media platforms in the country.

Telecommunication companies suffer additional loss due to prolonged internet suspension

Date: May 12, 2023 – Source 1: Express Tribune, Source 2: The Nation, Source 3: Pakistan Observer (PO)

Telecommunication operators and the federal government suffered losses worth Rs1.6 billion and Rs570 million in revenue and tax receipts respectively at the end of the third day of internet services being suspended in Pakistan to counter violent protests.

Mobile data services restored in Pakistan

Date: May 13, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune, Source 3: Arab News

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) confirmed that it had ordered the restoration of mobile internet services across Pakistan, three days after it blocked such services amid protests.

Pakistanis still unable to access social media sites after PTA lifts curbs on internet

Date: May 14, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune

While the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) claimed to have opened up the internet, it has not been fully restored, leading to complaints from people struggling to access internet and social media platforms.

Senate panel directs PTA to provide income details of telecommunication operators

Date: May 27, 2023 – Source 1: Dawn, Source 2: Express Tribune

The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to provide province-wise details of income generated by major telecommunication companies during the last decade.

SECTION 2: Digital rights advocacy and defense

  • Pakistan-based citizens and civil society organizations
  • Independent international digital rights organizations
  • UN and global multilateral organizations
  • Governmental and other sources

Artists lash out at internet blackout in Pakistan, demand immediate access to social media

Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune

Notable figures from the world of entertainment, film, and music condemned the government’s decision to block mobile internet services in Pakistan, demanded immediate access to social media and rallied together to defend freedom of expression and democratic values.

GSMA urges Pakistani government to reverse suspension of internet, social media

Date: May 12, 2023 – Source 1: Pakistan Today, Source 2: Business Recorder (BR)

Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), in an emergency letter, pressed the Pakistani government to put an end to mobile internet suspension and allow citizens access to online and social media services.

SECTION 3: Digital rights violations and protections

  • Citizens and netizens – including case studies
  • Media, journalists and other information practitioners
  • Online free speech
  • Online access to information
  • Privacy violations
  • Data protection
  • Surveillance
  • Misinformation / disinformation / fake news
  • Cybercrime

Pakistani online group behind targeted attacks on military personnel, others

Date: May 4, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune

A report by Meta, the parent company of Facebook, revealed that an online group in Pakistan targeted people, including military personnel, in both India and Pakistan through fake social media accounts during the second quarter of 2023.

PTI social media activist apologizes for online smear campaign against Pakistan’s armed forces

Date: May 8, 2023 – Source: The News

Abdul Rehman Kamal, who was reportedly a member of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) social media team, apologized over his conduct of propaganda against martyrs of Pakistan’s armed forces through fake accounts operated by him on Facebook and Twitter.

Digital backslide

Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: Dawn

A countrywide mobile internet and social media shutdown, ostensibly to quell unrest in the wake of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) protests, is par for the course when it comes to Pakistan’s abysmal state of internet governance as outlined in the Pakistan Internet Landscape Report 2022.

State relies on proxies amid media blackout

Date: May 14, 2023 – Source: Express Tribune

While Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were inaccessible in Pakistan, the Prime Minister and the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) police shared information on social media sites through enabling proxies.

FIA charges four for uploading ‘blasphemous’ content on social media

Date: May 20, 2023 – Source: The News

Following an inquiry, the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Cyber Crime Wing (CCW) booked and arrested four persons in Karachi for allegedly uploading blasphemous content on social media platforms.

Over 2,600 complaints of cyber harassment registered during 2022 in Pakistan

Date: May 21, 2023 – Source: Dawn

According to a report released by Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), the organization’s telephone hotline received over 2,600 complaints of cyber harassment during 2022, an average of 224 cases each month.

French media debunks PTI-sponsored disinformation

Date: May 21, 2023 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: France 24

French news channel, France 24, noted obvious giveaways about an image circulated on social media through accounts operated by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). The image in question was created using an artificial intelligence (AI) program and was being projected as a real-life image.

TikTok: The new frontier for Pakistan’s political info-wars

Date: May 22, 2023 – Source: Dawn

TikTok is uncharted territory in the social media landscape of Pakistani politics. Only two parties – the PTI and PML-N – have official accounts on the platform. With Twitter inaccessible, the PTI leveraged its account on TikTok to mobilize workers, convey official messages and check opposing narratives.

Blocked information in Pakistan’s digital realm

Date: May 22, 2023 – Source: Dawn

Disrupting internet services should never be an option for Pakistan’s authorities. The decision to ban access to social media services hit businessmen and freelance operators hard, creating a trust deficit between global clients and local service providers.

Online harassment

Date: May 24, 2023 – Source: The News

The Digital Rights Foundation’s (DRF) Cyber Harassment Helpline 2022 annual report makes for grim reading when it comes to women and their ability to access and the use the internet as equal participants in public life.

SECTION 4: Digitalization

  • Digitalization in governance sectors / e-governance
  • Digitalization in social and development sectors
  • Digitalization in business and commercial sectors

Google pledges 44,000 scholarships for Pakistani students

Date: May 10, 2023 – Source: Dawn

Google committed 44,000 scholarships by the end of 2023 for Pakistani students wanting to learn in-demand digital skills. The scholarships will enable students to learn courses part of Google Career Certificates (GCC).

So much for Pakistan’s plan for digital economy – it’s turned off the internet

Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: The Register

Given that Pakistan promotes the use of freelance remote work platforms as a way for residents to earn a living and improve service exports, suspension of internet services is reducing global confidence in Pakistan’s freelancers – and only fueling anger about the political situation responsible for the outage.

FBR to facilitate duty-free equipment imports for Pakistan’s technology zones

Date: May 11, 2023 – Source: Dawn

The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) notified draft rules to facilitate the import of duty-free equipment for Pakistan’s technology zones for 10 years. The rules cover the registration of zones, technological equipment zones and retention period.

Punjab to connect commissioner offices to automated e-filing system

Date: May 24, 2023 – Source 1: The News, Source 2: Pakistan Observer (PO)

The Punjab Chief Secretary issued instructions to extend the scope of e-filing and office automation system (EFOAS) to the offices of divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners.

___________________________________________________________OBJECTIVES: This series of monthly report aims to:

  • Track developments revolving around the framework of digitalization in Pakistan including policy and advocacy on digital rights, policy enforcements and digital rights violations, covering viewpoints of government, civil society, human rights community including digital rights campaigners, media, citizen journalists and other information practitioners, and regulators of electronic media, internet and telecom sectors, and netizens.
  • Monitor the interface between digital rights and Pakistan’s overall legal framework and how developments around them impact freedom of expression and access to information online as well as diversity and pluralism in Pakistan’s digital landscape, cyberspace and internet domains.
  • Follow developments around the themes of digital rights, freedom of expression, access to information, privacy, surveillance, data protection, access to internet services, telecom policies, etc.

INFORMATION SOURCES: This report monitors, among others, the following sources of information:

  • Government: Federal and provincial cabinets
  • Ministries: Related ministries, including Information and Broadcasting, Information Technology (IT) and Telecom, Human Rights, Science and Technology, Commerce and Industry, etc.
  • Legislatures: Senate, National Assembly, provincial assemblies, relevant standing committees
  • Regulators: Pakistan telecommunications Authority (PTA), Pakistan Electronic Media regulatory Authority (PEMRA), Press Council of Pakistan (PPC), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), etc.
  • Global organizations: UN/Unesco, International Media Support (IMS), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), etc.
  • National organizations: Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), BoloBhi, Media Matters for Democracy (MMFD), Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), etc.
  • Media: Dawn, The News, Express Tribune, The Nation, Pakistan Today, The Friday Times, etc.
  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, etc.
  • Local networks: Journalists Safety Hubs Network, Alliance on Diversity & Pluralism in Media, etc.
  • Research groups: Gallup Pakistan, IPSOS Pakistan, etc.

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