Internet giants say their services may become unavailable under Pakistan’s new rules

Internet giants say their services may become unavailable under Pakistan’s new rules
Leading global Internet companies may become unable to operate in Pakistan, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) said on Thursday. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 November 2020

Internet giants say their services may become unavailable under Pakistan’s new rules

Internet giants say their services may become unavailable under Pakistan’s new rules
  • Social networking websites are required to remove unlawful content in 24 hours after receiving a government directive
  • Digital rights activists and telecom operators term the rules illegal and an attempt to curb freedom of expression

ISLAMABAD: Leading global Internet companies may become unable to operate in Pakistan, the Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) said on Thursday in response to the country’s new social media rules.
Pakistan announced the Removal and Blocking of Unlawful Online Content Rules 2020 on Wednesday to make digital networks and Internet service providers block and remove “unlawful online content” within 24 hours — or in emergency cases within six hours — after being reported by a government authority.
A service provider or social media company could face a fine of up to 500 million Pakistani rupees ($3.14 million) or shutdown for failing to prevent the uploading and live streaming of content related to “terrorism, hate speech, pornography, incitement to violence and detrimental to national security.”
“The Rules would make it extremely difficult for AIC members to make their services available to Pakistani users and businesses,” said the Internet coalition, which comprises Amazon, AirBnb, Apple, Booking.com, Expedia Group, Facebook, Grab, Google, LinkedIn, LINE, Rakuten, Twitter and Yahoo.
Khurram Ali Mehran, a spokesman for the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), told Arab News that the purpose of the new rules was “to ensure effective implementation of local laws through quick removal of unlawful, defamatory, obscene and pornographic content from social media platforms.”
However, the AIC said: “It’s chilling to see the PTA’s powers expanded, allowing them to force social media companies to violate established human rights norms on privacy and freedom of expression.” It added that the “draconian data localization requirements” under the new rules would “damage the ability of people to access a free and open Internet and shut Pakistan’s digital economy off from the rest of the world.”
The new rules allow any individual, government department, including a law enforcement or intelligence agency, to file a complaint against any unlawful online content with reasons for its removal or blocking access on digital platforms.
Islamabad has been struggling to regulate online content by blocking and removing fake news and propaganda against the country’s national security institutions, including the army, blasphemous content, and other sensitive material that violates cultural norms of the country.
The rules were approved initially by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Cabinet in February, but while the government promised to initiate a consultation with the tech industry, according to AIC the talks “never occurred” and members of the group are “alarmed by the scope of Pakistan’s new law targeting Internet companies, as well as the government’s opaque process by which these rules were developed.”
The new rules also suggest that the companies will be bound to establish one or more database servers in Pakistan to store data and online content. While the stored content would be subject to the promulgation of data protection laws, activists raise concerns.
“This is just to give the impression that there is a legal cover for this (blocking the online dissent and freedom of expression), but how legal this is and how constitutional this is, is up for challenge,” Farieha Aziz, a digital rights activist who heads Bolo Bhi, told Arab News.
“Journalists and activists have a lot to lose because social media is now their only other avenue (to express themselves),” she said.


Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 19 January 2021

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”