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Pakistan Implements Strict Measures on Internet and Media Freedom

Immigration News

Islamabad, Pakistan — Pakistan is reportedly moving towards stricter measures to control public dissent, including the creation of an internet firewall akin to China’s Great Firewall. This development comes amid efforts to monitor and restrict online conversations, punish journalists who challenge authorities, and suppress dissenting voices.

The initiative is believed to be driven by the military, whose leadership has faced significant public criticism and internal discord over the past two years. The proposed internet firewall aims to monitor citizens’ online activities, including their communications, purchases, and reading habits. This raises concerns about the potential infringement on freedom of expression.

Funding for the firewall remains unclear, particularly as the country seeks financial support from Beijing to Riyadh. This initiative follows a series of stringent laws regulating social, broadcast, and print media, causing many journalists and activists to either flee the country or cease their activities.

The crackdown on media and dissent intensified during the tenure of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and General Javed Bajwa. Allegations of election manipulation and a turbulent governance period led to increased sensitivity to criticism from both Khan and military leaders. Reports of journalists and activists being targeted abroad, including incidents in Kenya, Canada, and Europe, have further highlighted the dangers faced by dissenters.

Following Khan’s administration, subsequent governments led by Shehbaz Sharif and General Asim Munir have continued the restrictive measures. General Munir, in particular, has faced significant criticism from former Prime Minister Khan’s supporters, culminating in an unprecedented civilian uprising on May 9, 2023.

In February, Shehbaz Sharif assumed office as Prime Minister after a contentious election. Despite changes in leadership, the restrictive environment persists, exacerbating the challenges for Pakistan’s citizens amid ongoing economic instability.

The proposed internet firewall is expected to strengthen the state’s control over social media and online discourse. Critics argue that this tool will be used to silence dissent, further eroding civil liberties. Concerns about misuse of power include potential blackmail and surveillance of private lives, with reports of judges being targeted through invasive means.

In Punjab and Sindh, the two most populous provinces, the measures have sparked significant opposition. In Punjab, a stringent anti-defamation law has granted local police extensive powers to suppress media criticism. Sindh has witnessed a series of targeted killings of journalists, with ten reported deaths in the past five years. A special report titled “Journalism in the Shadow of Violence” documented 184 incidents of violence against journalists in Sindh from 2018 to 2023.

Pakistan, previously recognized as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, faces increasing scrutiny as these new measures threaten to further restrict press freedom and silence critical voices.

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