Oral Statement delivered by Bytes for All, Pakistan at 23rd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Geneva, June 2013: Here is the text of Oral Statement delivered by Bytes for All, Pakistan at 23rd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council under Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. Frank La Rue. This statement was delivered on behalf of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and larger human rights movement in Asia Region.

Statement Starts: Thank you, Mr. President. FORUM-ASIA appreciates the report of the Special Rapporteur, Mr. La Rue (A/HRC/23/40), and echoes his alarm over the vague and unspecified notions of “national security” which is a typical justification by States for the interception of and access to communications in many countries, including in Asia. In Indonesia, the Law on State Intelligence 2011 contains unclear provisions that allow for violations of freedom of expression, such as arbitrary wire-tapping.  In Pakistan, the Telecommunications (Reorganisation) Act 1996 gives the government broad and largely unrestricted powers to issue decrees to curb free speech.

Furthermore, privacy violations and interception of digital communications on the basis of “national security”, with no regulation or oversight is rampant.  We concur with the Special Rapporteur, “legislation must stipulate that State surveillance of communications must only occur under the most exceptional circumstances and exclusively under the supervision of an independent judicial authority.” We are concerned over the wide use of surveillance technology “FinFisher”, which is known to be deployed by governments across the globe to target human rights defenders. FinFisher has recently been found on the networks of the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd,  as well as in a number of other Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, and Singapore.  
 
Mr. President, FORUM-ASIA draws this Council’s attention to the deteriorating situation of freedom of expression in a number of Asian countries in the context of elections. In Malaysia, at least six activists and opposition leaders have been charged under the Sedition Act, while at least seven have been charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act, for speeches and rallies following allegations of electoral irregularities by the incumbent government during the recently-concluded general elections.  
 
In Bangladesh, the recent blocking of a newspaper, two television channels, blogs and Facebook pages, raised concerns over the heightened stifling of the freedom of expression, ostensibly in the context of the impending general elections to be held at the end of 2013 or early 2014.
 
Assaults on media freedom in Sri Lanka continue to persist as we have highlighted in our written statement to this Council (A/HRC/23/NGO/71). In particular, attacks against Jaffna-based Tamil language newspaper Uthayan have been intensified in the context of the upcoming elections of the Northern Provincial Council to be held in September 2013. We call on the government to ensure independent investigations into all cases where journalists and media institutions have been attacked. We further urge the government to immediately accept the long outstanding visit request by the Special Rapporteur. Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. La Rue.
 
--Statement Ends - Necessary references mentoned below--
 
 
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[1]  13th Session of the UPR Working Group, Joint Submission by the Indonesian Civil Society Coalition, http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/session13/ID/JS3_UPR_IDN_S13_2012_JointSubmission3_E.pdf

[2]  FORUM-ASIA, “Internet and Social Media in Asia: Battleground for Freedom of Expression” (2012), http://www.forum-asia.org/uploads/press-release/2012/July/Freedom-of-Expression-and-Social-Media-LOWRES.pdf

[3]  Bytes for All, “Privacy rights violations challenged in Lahore High Court”, 8 May 2013, http://content.bytesforall.pk/node/100

[4]  Citizen Lab and Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, “For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying”, https://citizenlab.org/storage/finfisher/final/fortheireyesonly.pdf

[5]  FORUM-ASIA, Press Release, “Malaysia: Drop Charges against Activists and Organisers of Post-Elections Rallies, End Crackdown on Freedoms of Expression and Peaceful Assembly”, 28 May 2013, http://www.forum-asia.org/?p=16242

[6]  FORUM-ASIA, Press Release, “Bangladesh: Arrest of the Bloggers and Editor – Government Must Refrain from Muzzling Freedom of Expression”, 18 April 2013, http://www.forum-asia.org/?p=16151