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Pakistan scores poorly in freedom of expression report

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan performed poorly in legal and practical protections for the right to freedom of expression during 2020, according to a new report published by the Media Matters for Democracy.

The Pakistan Freedom of Expression Report 2020 was launched through a webinar on Wednesday. Pakistan scored low on all six dimensions with an overall score of only 30 points out of a total of 100 on the assessment index. This fell in the range of “poor” for freedom of expression in the country.

The dimensions include the legal environment, press freedom, digital expression, pluralism, socioeconomic and political situation, and protection from threats to expression.

The indicators for these dimensions were measured through a survey of a panel of experts from the fields of politics, media, academia, law, and human rights advocacy, and secondary research.

The report found that during the 2020 Pakistan’s media and internet regulatory authorities continued to exert arbitrary legal and regulatory restrictions on speech and online content by ordering bans, suspensions and advisories against social media apps, entertainment, and discussions of social and political issues.

It added that journalists remained vulnerable to physical, legal, and digital threats in the absence of long-awaited legislation on journalists’ safety, according to the study.

The report found that at least eight individuals linked with the media were killed and 36 journalists were attacked in the line of duty, 10 were arrested, while there were 23 instances of arbitrary detentions regarding news reporting and online expression during the year.

Women journalists were especially targeted with coordinated online attacks as they reported on political issues and the government’s pandemic response.

The report noted that the coronavirus pandemic intensified the challenges to freedom of expression and access to information in Pakistan.

Internet users were consistently exposed to disinformation while journalists reporting on the pandemic faced physical safety risks and restrictions on access to information sources, and many young citizens without Internet services found themselves abandoned as education systems shifted online, according to the report.