Brief Overview

Human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists are reported to be heavily surveilled and those criticizing the government or its policies are brought under the purview of sedition and counterterrorism laws in a bid to muzzle dissent. Female journalists have been particularly targeted with hate campaigns online from pro-government forces. Self-censorship, especially on digital mediums, is high owing to the repressive Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA). According to the annual Pakistan Legal Media Review 2020, PECA was invoked against 13 journalists in 2019.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016



2 May: Pakistan subjected to increased muzzling of media content during 2020-2021

Between Jan-April, Pakistan Press Foundation has recorded: 1 murder of a journalist due to his work, 10 incidents of arrests and detentions, 4 incidents of abduction and kidnapping, 16 incidents of physical assault, 13 incidents of threats, 4 incidents of raids and attacks, 5 incidents of major internet restrictions or blackouts, 22 directives by PEMRA curbing free expression, 7 incidents of legal action against journalists and 6 instances of legislative action implicating free expression.

20 April: Senior journalist Absar Alam shot, injured in Islamabad

The shooting of journalist Absar Alam is suspected to be an immediate retaliation against his tweet alleging the current ISI chief for pressurizing him while he headed the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority. In March, the Islamabad High Court suspended the summons issued by the Federal Investigation Agency over his social media posts and in September 2020, he was charged under PECA 2016.

7 April: Bolo Bhi Letter to MOITT on April 8, 2021, Consultation

Federal Minister of Human Rights asked rights-based organizations to furnish written objections to “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and safeguards) Rules, 2020” and invited them for a consultation the very next day. Such short notice is criticized as unreasonable, mala fide, and perfunctory.

2 April: IHC directs Committee to submit report on Social Media Rules by 10 May

The Islamabad High Court has asked the 5-member inter-ministerial committee constituted by PM Khan and headed by Minister for Human Rights to examine “Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content (Procedure, Oversight and safeguards) Rules, 2020” to submit their report by 10 May.

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