Tuesday, February 25, 2020
It remains to be seen whether the opposition will forge a common front against the government and step up the pressure. Given individual party interests and political compulsions that have often led to divisions among them, the question that many have been asking is whether the PML-N, PPP and JUI-F are capable of joining hands against the government in a sustained manner. However, if the intention is indeed a united front against the government then Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s criticism of the Sharifs is puzzling. It could have been driven by the PPP’s local political interests in Punjab but the larger cost of such remarks does not appear to have been factored in, otherwise there might have been an attempt at damage control to maintain the loose unity of the opposition. It is possible though that the PML-N has viewed the criticism as a one-off statement that could be brushed aside for larger gains. While the timing of Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s statement is baffling, its substance is not off the mark.
It is no secret that Nawaz Sharif was supported by the establishment against Benazir Bhutto and he was the direct beneficiary of her ouster. Similarly, Shahbaz Sharif’s long absence from parliament also deserves to be criticised as an abdication of his duties as leader of the opposition.
The government of Pakistan recently passed a new set of regulations that critics say will give the government more control over how Pakistanis can use social media.
The "Citizens Protection (Against Online Harm) Rules, 2020" oblige social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google to block or remove posts that are considered objectionable by the government. The government can also acquire data and information from the companies.
Officials maintain that the regulations will help them monitor and mitigate online content that has to do with "terrorism, extremism, hate speech, fake news, incitement to violence and national security."
Social media companies will also be required to set up a physical presence in the country and appoint a contact person who will report to a "National Coordinator" at Pakistan's Ministry of Information and Telecommunications.
The laws were reportedly approved by the government without public consultation and enacted behind closed doors at the end of January.
A broad definition of 'extremism?'
"The worrying part for me is that the definition of extremism, religion or culture is so wide and ambiguous and that means they have unfettered power to call any online content illegal or extremist or anti-state," Nighat Dad of the Pakistan's Digital Rights Foundation (DSF) told Reuters news agency.
"I do fear that this will be used against dissent, free speech and for political gains."
According to a report by the Pakistani newspaper Dawn, Pakistani officials reported 14,296 URLs to Facebook in the first half of 2019. Facebook removed more than 12,000 of them. Half of the websites violated Facebook's rules, the other half violated "local laws."Social media companies are required to remove flagged content within 24 hours under regular circumstances, and six hours in case of emergencies.
New laws 'excessive'
Pakistan's Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) said in a statement that the new laws violate freedom of speech clauses in Pakistan's constitution, and exceed the "boundaries of permissible restrictions" under Article 19."This article allows for some 'reasonable restrictions' on freedom of speech," DRF said. Content falling into this category includes anything considered as blasphemous to Islam, harming national security or violating "decency and morality." However, DRF said that the role of "National Coordinator" set up under the the new laws cannot be considered as having a constitutional mandate under which "restriction on freedom of speech may be placed" or as a "benchmark to undermine fundamental rights."
A joint statement from various Pakistani civil society actors said that the new social media laws "point towards the centralization of power to exercise strict controls over digital and online narratives."
"The policy itself is dictatorial and unresponsive to the global digital environment," said the statement from the Media Matters for Democracy initiative."We believe that rather than protecting citizens from online harm, these rules stand to create significant harm by isolating Pakistani citizens from the global Internet."Many Pakistani civil society activists fear that restrictions on social media companies may lead to strained relations between the platforms and the government of Pakistan at a time when the vital digital economy of the country is beginning to take off.
Yousafzai, widely known by her first name, Malala, is a student at the University of Oxford. The 22-year-old posted a photo on Instagram of herself and Thunberg sitting on a bench with their arms around each other, with a caption “Thank you, @gretathunberg” and a heart emoji.
Thunberg, 17, is in the United Kingdom to join a school strike in Bristol on Friday.
Both women shot to worldwide fame after standing up for major global issues: climate change and women’s education.
Thunberg became a household name after skipping school in Sweden to protest against climate change, while Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for campaigning for girls to be allowed to go to school.In 2014, Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy of education. She became a global symbol of the resilience of women in the face of oppression.
Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 and 2020.
The pair met to discuss their activism at Lady Margaret Hall, Malala’s Oxford college. Thunberg also talked to some of the students about climate change and protest.
The college’s master, Alan Rusbridger, posted a photo of Thunberg on his own Instagram and Twitter, saying that he was honored to host Thunberg and grateful that she found time to talk to the students.
Malala also posted the photo on Twitter and commented: “She’s the only friend I’d skip school for.”