The Failure of Online Censorship

Online censorship has become a pressing issue in Pakistan, as it is increasingly being used to control political discourse and suppress dissenting voices. The authoritarian machine of the country, whether under the PTI or the incumbent PDM government, has been using the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), 2016 to restrict free speech and intimidate citizens. However, the failure of online censorship to effectively control the narrative has been evident, as seen in the PTI’s social media strategies to highlight human rights violations and amplified cases against enforced disappearances.

The Old Tricks of Censorship 

Using censorship to control political discourse is not new in Pakistan’s political spectrum. Journalists have faced a sustained censorship campaign, comprising media blackouts, arrests, abductions, and FIRs. The country’s authoritarian machine has long exercised its archaic censorship impulses on critical quarters, but those wielding power have failed to learn the lesson that it simply doesn’t work anymore.

The Failure of Digital Censorship 

Despite the draconian crackdown, digital mammoth PTI has been able to use sure-footed social media strategies to highlight ongoing human rights violations in the country. The PTI’s coordinated cry for help has amplified the case against enforced disappearances. The PTI has crowdsourced a list of international human rights organizations and influential individuals to tag on Twitter, urged amplification from overseas Pakistanis, and produced a dossier documenting human rights violations under the incumbent regime.

Online Censorship and Pakistan  

The failure of online censorship to control the narrative has significant implications for Pakistan. With the nature of the internet, politics now transcends national boundaries, giving access to international scrutiny. While the PEMRA can force newsrooms to bleep the army chief’s name on TV, it cannot dictate live streams. Arrests and abductions of social media activists cannot silence a narrative. Parties in power, backed by the state, may lose track of their record of grave human rights violations, but the internet never forgets. As such, the executive’s abuse of power and illegal harassment and intimidation of citizens is not a sustainable approach to governance. Respect for the freedom of speech, including on social media, is the government’s constitutional responsibility, and suppressing opponents’ political views is condemnable.

The failure of online censorship to control the narrative has demonstrated that censorship is not an effective tool for controlling the political discourse. The government must respect the freedom of speech and refrain from suppressing opponents’ political views. With the nature of the internet, politics now transcends national boundaries, and the internet never forgets, making it imperative for the government to prioritize human rights and ensure the protection of its citizens’ fundamental rights.

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