April 18, 2018, (Islamabad): Bytes for All, Pakistan is extremely concerned over the recent developments pertaining to suppression of free speech through multi-level state interventions. This aggression against media, freedom of speech, expression and civil liberties is contrary to democratic norms and constitutional provisions.
It is very unfortunate that for a long time, censorship has been toed as a solution to any problems in the country. However, the new wave of censorship is widespread and has been impacting different segments of the society including political parties, academia, conventional media, social media and youth movements.
The nation-wide blackout of the country’s leading news and current affairs channel, Geo News is an open attack on free media in Pakistan. Multiple opinion articles by renowned intellectuals in different newspapers have been barred from publishing. Many news outlets resorted to self-censorship and denied space to some of the critical pieces expecting backlash from the state authorities.
Moreover, the Lahore High Court also announced a ban on the speeches of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz for their growing criticism on the judiciary. Similarly, the controls have been strengthened on academic institutions to muzzle intellectual freedom and fearless ideas, where scholars wish to investigate controversial topics on array of socio-political themes.
Bytes for All strongly condemns this oppression. We believe that by cultivating a climate of fear and intimidation among citizens, democratic norms of tolerance cannot flourish in a nascent democracy. This worst form of tyranny is particularly causing unrest among journalists and human rights defenders who often work on sensitive issues in the line of their professional duties.
Bytes for All has recently released an in-depth empirical analysis, Dangers of Digital Surveillance, on self-censorship by the journalists and human rights defenders who have been victims of digital surveillance by the state and non-state actors.
The report highlights that the spaces for free expression, especially in the context of media and civil society have been rapidly shrinking. On social media, the activities of journalists and human rights defenders are being surveilled, which often result in self-censorship.
We demand from the government and the higher judiciary to facilitate an environment that enables fundamental freedoms and constitutional rights rather curtailing them in the name of false narratives of national security, social harmony and integrity of the state.
Democracies respect fundamental freedoms!