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August 1, 2016

Let sanity prevail


August 1, 2016

The controversial cybercrime bill has been passed in the Senate – with most of its pernicious clauses still intact. These clauses carry mandatory minimum prison sentences and fines from anywhere between Rs50,000 and Rs10 million. Violations could be anything from simply sharing memes lampooning politicians to downloading your favourite movie or TV show.

The language used in the bill is so nebulous that the possibilities for abuse are endless. And if that wasn’t alarming enough, the people that were ‘entrusted’ with seeing this bill pass know even less about the consequences of what it is they are proposing.

The bill made it past the National Assembly and was placed in front of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication. The members of that committee include Syed Shibli Faraz (PTI), Najma Hameed (PML-N), Ghous Muhammad Niazi (PML-N), Taj Muhammad Afridi (IND), Rehman Malik (PPP), Gianchand (PPP), Rubina Khalid (PPP), Karim Khwaja (PPP), Naeema Ehsan (BNP-A), Mufti Abdul Sattar (JUI-F), Osman Saifullah Khan (PPP) and Chairperson Shahi Syed (ANP).

The only senator on the committee who actively fought tooth and nail against the bill, Osman Saifullah Khan, was not even in Pakistan when the bill was forced through. Before his departure he requested for an extension and a public hearing, both of which were denied.

All this reads like a malicious conspiracy against people’s right to free speech. My sincerest hope is that by some miracle this bill is vetoed. The ignorant will fall for the blackshirted propaganda that the passage of this bill is democratic because it is an act of parliament. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is fascism plain and simple.

A government forfeits all moral authority to govern when it cannot guarantee basic individual freedoms and rights for its citizens. By stifling free speech and awarding repressive punishments over vaguely defined infractions, the cybercrime bill does exactly that.

The internet is a resource which cannot be controlled or regulated, much less by people who do not understand it. Like anything else it can be misused, but unless that translates into tangible negative intent or harm – for which Pakistan already has penal codes – no authority has the right to define what people can or cannot do on the internet. Morally induced censorship should be the responsibility of individuals and not the government.

In the US, two bills aimed at regulating the internet, PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) vociferously drew the ire of the general public and were consequently voted down. Both bills granted immeasurable access to the US government and private corporations to infringe on people’s privacy under the guise of internet piracy and security.

Not only would it have stifled freedom of expression by monitoring people’s internet activity, but also restricted individual ingenuity and essentially monopolised the internet. Basically everything that makes the internet so great. The public literally took to the streets and used any and all means they could to kill off both PIPA and SOPA.

Because it lays the groundwork for an Orwellian police state, the cybercrime bill is far worse than either PIPA or SOPA could ever hope to be. Combined with the legal cover given to military courts, a law like this could be used to subjugate an already repressed populace. All under the false pretence of security and morality.

By passing the cybercrime bill your representatives have failed you. They have failed to protect your rights; and they have failed to protect your freedoms. My advice to those who hold dear the values and liberties that come with being a Pakistan is to take up the fight wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. Be it protests, lawsuits or simply haranguing your public representatives by any and all means necessary.

It is the responsibility of those public representatives to listen to the electorate who have empowered them to take decisions aimed at safeguarding our rights and interests.

Otherwise all we have is a sham for a democracy, open to being puppeteered by people who do not have the public’s best interests at heart; and who most certainly do not understand the implications such an action could have in the long term.

Twitter: @jammankhattak


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