Pakistan: ARTICLE 19, IFEX and PPF make joint submission to Universal Periodic Review

ARTICLE 19, IFEX, and PPF have made a joint submission to the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Pakistan in advance of its review in November 2017. 

The submission focuses on Pakistan’s compliance with its obligations under international human rights law to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression and information, addressing in detail key concerns including the constitutional, legal and institutional framework; the safety of journalists, media workers, and human rights defenders; broadcast and film regulation; and freedom of expression online.

Overall, we find that the situation for the right to freedom of expression and media freedom in Pakistan has not improved since Pakistan’s last review in 2012. The constitutional, legal and institutional framework has, with few exceptions, deteriorated.

The enforcement of Pakistan’s blasphemy and criminal defamation laws remain a significant concern, as well as new laws to extend controls over the right to freedom of expression online.

Killings and attacks on journalists, media workers and human rights defenders remain endemic and characterized by ongoing impunity, with discrimination and harassment against women journalists a particular problem. The regulatory environment for the media and film has also become increasingly hostile.

“The government’s record of fulfilling commitments made during previous UPR cycles relating to freedom of expression has been disappointing. Not only has Pakistan failed to implement accepted recommendations, but the situation for freedom of expression has deteriorated significantly in critical areas including restrictions on television broadcasting, and social media and online censorship. Pervasive impunity for violence against journalists, media workers and human rights defenders also remains of grave concern,” said Owais Aslam Ali, Secretary General of the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF). “We hope that the third cycle of the UPR will prove a catalyst for action, and that the government will, over the next few months, make serious efforts to fulfill its commitments and roll back new restrictions imposed since 2012,”  he added.

ARTICLE 19, IFEX and PPF will be calling on all UN Member States to make the following recommendations to the government of Pakistan during the next review:

Constitutional, legal and institutional framework

  • Reform Article 19 of the Pakistan Constitution to bring it in line with Article 19 of the ICCPR, including by requiring all limitations on the right to freedom of expression by justified by principles of necessity and proportionality, and by removing bases for restriction that are not recognised in Article 19(3) of the ICCPR;
  • Repeal the 21st Constitutional Amendment, and amend the Pakistan Army Act, to restore civilian trials for expression related offences committed by civilians;
  • Implement Article 19A of the Constitution by enacting at the Federal level an access to information law in line with international human rights standards, to replace the Freedom of Information Ordinance of 2002, ensuring equivalent protections for the right at the state level;
  • Reform Article 295 of the Penal Code to repeal the criminal offence of blasphemy, in line with the recommendations of the Rabat Plan of Action, drop outstanding charges under the Penal Code and quash any convictions made pursuant to the provision;
  • Ensure that public officials at all levels desist from public pronouncements that may incite violence against persons perceived or imputed to have committed blasphemy;
  • Cease pressuring social media companies and other intermediaries to monitor or remove blasphemous content online;
  • Decriminalise defamation by repealing Sections 500 and 501 of the Pakistan Penal Code, and reform the Anti-Terrorism Act, and drop all outstanding charges and drop any convictions of persons under these provisions, in particular journalists;
  • Empower the NHRC to investigate human rights violations in which intelligence or security agencies are implicated, and provide them with sufficient financial independence and autonomy to provide objective advice on bringing existing and draft legislation in line with Pakistan’s human rights obligations and commitments.

Safety of journalists, media workers and human rights defenders

  • Engage journalists and media workers, as well as civil society, in improving the Journalists Welfare and Protection Bill, to ensure that it complies with international freedom of expression standards;
  • Implement measures to ensure the protection of journalists, media workers or human rights defenders who face treats due to their work, for example by establishing a protection mechanism with adequate resources to grant practical assistance to those at risk;
  • Ensure public authorities publicly, unequivocally and systematically condemn all violence and attacks against all journalists and other media workers, as well as against human rights defenders;
  • End impunity for crimes against journalists, media workers and human rights defenders, including by ensuring impartial, prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all alleged crimes to hold those responsible to account;
  • Appoint a special prosecutor on violence against media at the federal and provincial levels to investigate and prosecute cases of violence against journalists, media workers and human rights defenders;
  • Provide updated information about the judicial status of cases of murdered journalists for the UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity;
  • Establish a fund for families of journalists who had been murdered or injured;
  • Ensure the implementation of legislation to prevent and protect against gender-based and sexual harassment against women journalists in the workplace, ensuring also their access to effective remedies;
  • Reform the Exit from Pakistan (Control) Ordinance of 1981 to ensure it is not used arbitrarily to block journalists, media workers or human rights defenders from leaving the country.

Broadcast and film regulation

  • Reform PEMRA, its 2009 Rules and Code of Conduct, to ensure its independence from political influence, so that its main purpose is to promote an independent and pluralistic media sector, ensuring that any limitations it may impose comply with international freedom of expression and due process standards, and are subject to judicial review;
  • Reform the CBFC to ensure its independence from political influence, and to ensure any powers it has to block the distribution of films complies with international freedom of expression standards.

Freedom of expression online

  • Comprehensively reform the Pakistan Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Preventing of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 to bring them into compliance with international human rights standards on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy.