Withering freedom of expression

The freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution, but recent actions of the government are tightly squeezing our freedom. After successfully controlling the broadcast media and purging all forms of dissent, the government has now turned towards social media.
Article 19 of the Constitution states that every citizen has the right to freedom to speech and expression and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions. This freedom comes with strings attached with blurred lines and ambiguity over what is acceptable.
As criticism of the new social media regulations continues, the civil society and journalists’ bodies have expressed concerns over the curbs which allow authorities to control freedom of expression under the pretext of protecting cultural, ethnic, and national security sensitivities. Some of the proposed rules are a blatant violation of privacy as they allow the government to intercept personal calls and messages, and enforce national security measures in the telecommunication sector.
The federal government has bypassed parliament to approve these set of rules to regulate social media platforms. There is no credible justification on why the move was made without consulting necessary stakeholders. The scope of these regulations are so vast that ordinary users will be the most vulnerable in case their private data is compromised.
Political dissent will be the first to suffer over these regulations. There has been scathing criticism on social media over the government’s achievements while other state institutions often get dragged. The staunch critics who were expunged from traditional media found a safe haven on social media and now the government wants to completely shut them down.
The Asia Internet Coalition, which seeks to promote the understanding of internet policy issues, has expressed concerns that new regulations will make it extremely difficult for social media companies to operate in Pakistan. It said that no other country has operated such sweeping set of rules and Pakistan risked becoming an outlier and depriving users and businesses of the growth of the internet economy. This will also affect the Digital Pakistan initiative launched by the government.
The PTI should realise that its popularity and rise to success was due to social media. The party used the platform aggressively to target the youth who are avid social media users. Now that the PTI is in power it should not pass any laws contrary to its agenda. The government should uphold democratic traditions and discuss the rules in parliament. More ideally, it should withdraw these curbs as they hamper freedom of speech and expression.
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