Pakistan witnessed a decline in internet freedom in 2020 after the government increased the blocking of political, social and cultural websites, enforced connectivity restrictions and used cybercrime law as a tool.

This was revealed in the findings of the “Annual Pakistan media legal review 2020” report launched by the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA). The report titled “Growing fear and hate in Pakistani online civic spaces”, was launched to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

It said, “The accumulative effect of these outcomes was that the already unfriendly legal framework governing freedom of expression, right to information and digital rights in Pakistan worsened considerably during 2020”.

The findings of the report also revealed that the enforcement of digital rights, freedom of expression and right to information witnessed major setbacks in Pakistan, especially in online spaces. The setbacks were faced due to regression in the areas of internet policies and regulations.

“This is resulting in a rise in censorship, hate speech, digital surveillance and breach of privacy and disinformation and misinformation online,” the report added.


The report was of the view that the aggressive government who was seeking control of the media and trying to expand its authority to over-regulate it, set the media legal context of Pakistan in 2020. The government not only tried to redefine the boundaries of free speech of information practitioners, journalists and online citizens, but also of opposition political parties and civil society movements and their leaders.

The report added, “The government accelerated its efforts to beef up internet controls with the intended consequence of expanding its policy of reduced tolerance for dissent. The cybercrime law was repeatedly invoked against journalists and opinion makers for exercising freedom of expression and social media activism”.

As per the report, “13 incidents of actions under Peca against journalists or human rights activists have been reported during the year.”

Aside from that, the annual review report noted that several social media applications and platforms were banned in 2020, as well.

“Freedom of expression is a guaranteed fundamental right in the shape of Article 19 of the Constitution,” Mr Alam said, adding, “the government needs to roll back its increasingly coercive policy and hostile practices aimed at curbing free speech and bring them in alignment with the best practices of diversity and pluralism in expression and allow online spaces to be representative of the people’s opinions and interests.”

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