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January 5, 2018

Women’s access to internet receded due to cyber violence, harassment


January 5, 2018

Islamabad: Women’s access to the internet has receded in recent years because of surge in technology driven violence and harassment against women.

The issue was highlighted by women rights activist, Ayesha Sarwari, at a seminar on cyberspaces and human rights, jointly organised by National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan.

Participants of the seminar stressed the need of protecting openness and neutrality of internet in Pakistan which are shrinking rapidly in the name of regulation. The seminar was chaired by the NCHR Chairman Justice (r) Ali Nawaz Chowhan. Eminent human rights activists, journalists and officials from Federal Investigation Agency and Islamabad Police attended the seminar.

Issues related to freedom of expression in online spaces, right to privacy, the intersection of gender and internet, online peaceful assemblies, misuse of social media and newly enacted Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act came under discussion.

Ayesha Sarwari said the state of access to internet when comes to women is dismal in Pakistan. She said that online abuse, morphing of girls’ pictures and blackmailing are some of major crimes being perpetrated against women in Pakistan. She said that in many cases internet users would intimidate women users with life threats for their expression.

Human rights activist and journalist, Marvi Sirmed expressed her concerns over increased criminalisation of legitimate online expression in Pakistan. She said that enforced disappearances of bloggers and social media activists has emerged as looming threat to free speech, especially after enactment of PECA, which is resulting in self-censorship and impunity.

Marvi highlighted the issues of network disruptions and non-availability of network in far-flung areas. Member NCHR, Chaudhry Shafique underlined the significance of digital rights and said all stakeholders need to sit together and pool their knowledge and ideas on technology and human rights’ intersectionality to devise a strategy to confront emerging challenges.

Advocate Umar Gilani talked about the right to privacy in digital age. He highlighted the emerging issues of misuse of users’ private data and its protection, unnecessary and disproportionate digital monitoring of citizens being carried out by the state and the loopholes in available privacy related legal framework. Country Director Bytes for All, Shahzad Ahmad while presenting the case of Pakistan in this realm stressed for open and uninterrupted access to internet for all so that the neglected citizens who have already been deprived of fundamental rights can also reap the economic and social benefits from technology. Other participants talked about different cases where citizens’ fundamental rights were being violated by the state and non-state actors.

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