Silencing Voices: Worrisome State of Restricting Religious and Political Dissent in the Sub-Continent

First Name: Tehmina  Zafar

Organization Name: Bytes For All

Email ID: tehmina@bytesforall.pk

Session Title Silencing Voices: Worrisome State of Restricting: Religious and Political Dissent in the Sub-Continent

Session Format: Panel Discussion

Content of the session: The panel discussion will have experts discussing the ever growing crack down on free speech be it religious or political, and alternatives. Recent examples are seen in Pakistan where in the beginning of year 2017, we saw a crackdown on bloggers in the form of enforced disappearances. Shocking as it seems, the situation has been met with extreme objections from civil society, activists and journalists alike. The disappeared bloggers have returned since with at least 1 bloggers still missing. The similar trend of silencing bloggers is witnessed in Bangladesh and Maldives. This state of affairs doesn’t seem to be settling as recently arrests were made on online activists who were merely showing their political dissent in Pakistan. South Asia has seemingly expanded on the trend to criminalise expression and free thinkers, activists and bloggers have been a victim of extra-judicial internments and an alarming trend of enforced disappearances is also experienced in Pakistan. The social media spaces particularly Facebook is seen taking sides of the state decisions when it comes to blocking and filtering content. In India and Pakistan as well as other Asian countries, intolerance towards religious minorities is seen doing the multiplier effect on offline and online spaces – that is, offline violence converts into hate speech on online spaces, and online hate speech invokes physical violence.

Stakeholder group: Civil Society

Country where Organisation is based: Pakistan

Speakers Details: Marvi Sirmed – panel host, Facebook representative, Country representation (India/Bangladesh/ Maldives)

Relevance of the issue with specified session theme:  The issue deals with the restrictive environments stifling expression, looking into the factors that contribute to limiting free speech including limiting access in the form of network shutdowns, surveillance to identify so-called offensive content to put bar on the expression instigating self-censorships.

Content of the session: The session will focus on: 1. Sharing experiences and examples from countries in focus. 2. Controversial legal frameworks and policies that obstruct free expression. 3. Role of social media platforms like Facebook in the pretext of pressures from the states. 4. Policy recommendations and alternative methods to safeguard human rights online.

What is USP of the session? This discussion will bring in the important concept of Network disconnections as a means to stifle expression.

How are you bringing diversity in your proposal: Our proposed panel is a mix of religiously diverse and various genders to talk about specific issues related to vulnerable and minority groups.

Relevant Tags free speech, political dissent, religious expression, social media, facebook.