Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of speech and press, but there were constitutional restrictions. In addition, threats, harassment, violence, and killings led journalists and editors to practice self-censorship.
Freedom of Expression: The constitution provides for the right to free speech and the press, subject to “any reasonable restriction imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam” or the “integrity, security, or defense of Pakistan, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality.” The law permits citizens to criticize the government publicly or privately, but criticism of the military could result in political or commercial reprisal. Blasphemy laws restrict individual rights to free speech concerning matters of religion and religious doctrine. The government restricted some language and symbolic speech based on “hate speech” and “terrorism” provisions.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, and journalists often criticized the civilian portions of the government. The press addressed the persecution of minorities. By law the government may restrict information that might be prejudicial to the national interest. Threats, harassment, and violence against journalists who reported on sensitive issues such as civil-military tensions or abuses by security forces occurred during the year.
There were 455 independent English, Urdu, and regional-language daily and weekly newspapers and magazines. To publish within AJK, media owners had to obtain permission from the Kashmir Council and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting controlled and managed the country’s primary wire service, the Associated Press of Pakistan, the official carrier of government and international news to the local media. The military had its own media and public relations office, Inter-Services Public Relations. The government-owned Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation and Pakistan Television Corporation broadcast television programs nationwide and operated radio stations throughout the country. In FATA and PATA, authorities allowed independent radio stations to broadcast with the FATA secretariat’s permission.
The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) licensed 89 private domestic and 22 foreign television channels; many of the channels were critical of the government. There were 143 commercial FM radio stations, but their licenses prohibited news programming. Some channels evaded this restriction by discussing news in talk-show formats. International radio broadcasts, including the BBC, were normally available. PEMRA imposed a blockage of transmissions of Indian television news channels until July 17, when the federal Lahore High Court lifted the ban.
PEMRA continued to enforce a ban on criticism of the judiciary and armed forces as proscribed in the constitution. PEMRA issued editorial directives to television stations during the year and authorized its chairman to shut down any channel found in violation of the PEMRA code of conduct, primarily with regard to prohibiting telecasts of protests that might instigate sectarian violence. PEMRA also maintained its ban on radio outlets broadcasting any Indian media content. Outlets continued to defy the ban, and most FM radio channels aired popular Indian songs.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces, political parties, militants, and other groups subjected media outlets, journalists, and their families to violence and harassment. Female journalists in particular faced threats of sexual violence and harassment, including via social media. Security forces allegedly abducted journalists. Media outlets that did not practice self-censorship were often the targets of retribution. Additionally, journalists working in remote and conflict-ridden areas lacked basic digital security as well as traditional security skills, which placed additional pressure to self-censor or not cover a story.
According to the International Federation of Journalists, state and nonstate actors killed, physically attacked, harassed, intimidated, and kidnapped journalists and subjected them to other forms of pressure. The Committee to Protect Journalists included the country in its annual “impunity index” because the government allowed deadly violence against members of the press to go unpunished.
In January unidentified attackers shot and killed Muhammad Jan of the Daily Qudrat newspaper while on a motorbike in Kalat, Balochistan. The Lahore-based Express Tribune reported that journalist Rana Tanveer suffered a broken leg after he was struck by a car on June 9. He had previously received death threats from unidentified sources for covering stories about religious minorities. On June 21, the University of Agriculture Faisalabad’s private security guards beat journalists from news channel Samaa TV, who had arrived to cover a student-related incident. The journalists had been refused entry but were filming from outside the university when the guards attacked them. University guards also attacked journalists from other television channels who arrived to support their fellow reporters. Also on June 21, in Islamabad, madrassa students attacked a Din News television reporter and cameraman filming what appeared to be electricity theft by the madrassa. The seminary students beat the news team and pelted them with stones.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Small, privately owned wire services and media organizations generally reported that they engaged in self-censorship, especially in reporting news about the military forces. Journalists reported regular denial of official permission to visit conflict areas or having to be escorted either by members of the military or by militants in order to report on conditions in conflict areas. The result was pressure to produce final articles that were slanted toward the military or militant viewpoint, depending upon the escort. Other reporting tended to be relatively objective and only focused on events, rather than deeper analysis, which journalists generally regarded as risky. Observers perceived that foreign journalists had more autonomy to write about issues and to be under less scrutiny by the government. Private cable and satellite channels also reported that they censored themselves at times. Blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws restricted publication on certain topics. Foreign books needed to pass government censors before they could be reprinted, but there were no reports of books being banned during the year. Imported books and magazines were subject to censorship for objectionable sexual or religious content. Obscene literature, a category the government defined broadly, was subject to seizure.
The government fined private television channels for alleged violations of the “code of ethics” and for showing banned content on-screen. According to Freedom House, authorities used PEMRA rules to silence broadcast media by either suspending licenses or threatening to do so.
National Security: Some journalists asserted authorities cited laws protecting national security to censor and restrict media distribution of material that criticized government policies or military or public officials. The 2015 Electronic Media (Programs and Advertisements) Code of Conduct included a clause that restricted reporting in any area that was part of a military operation in progress.
Nongovernmental Impact: Militant and criminal elements killed, kidnapped, beat, and intimidated journalists and their families, leading many to censor their reporting.
Since 2012 the government has implemented a systematic, nationwide content-monitoring and filtering system to restrict or block “unacceptable” content, including material that is deemed un-Islamic, pornographic, or critical of the state or military forces. According to Freedom House, the government justified such restrictions as necessary for security purposes. There also were reports the government attempted to control or block some websites, including sites the government deemed extremist and sites that advocated for Baloch independence. There was decreasing transparency and accountability surrounding content monitoring, and the government often used vague criteria without due process. In its Freedom in the World Report for 2017, Freedom House claimed that more than 200,000 (down from 400,000 in 2016) websites were banned in the country because of their allegedly anti-Islamic, pornographic, or blasphemous content. The report noted restrictive laws governing the use of the internet and stated that civil society organizations faced a continuing clampdown. The provincial government in Balochistan blocked access to a Baloch human rights blog run by journalists. The government blocked several Baloch websites, including the English-language website The Baloch Hal and the website of Daily Tawar, a Balochistan-based newspaper.
In March the government petitioned Facebook and Twitter to identify Pakistanis worldwide who are found posting material considered offensive to Islam so that local authorities could prosecute them or pursue their extradition on charges of blasphemy, which could result in a death sentence.
On June 10, an antiterrorism court sentenced Taimoor Raza, a 30-year-old Shia man, to death for making allegedly blasphemous posts on Facebook, which observers noted was the first time a court handed down a death sentence specifically for committing blasphemy on social media.
The government enforced the 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, which many critics claimed contained overly broad and vague definitions of what constituted online speech deemed suitable for removal and/or criminal charges. On June 25, a journalist was arrested by armed men at his house in Quetta and subsequently was handed over to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and charged under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act for allegedly posting “illegal material” on social media. Digital rights activists expressed serious concerns about the law’s potential to curb freedom of expression, particularly on social media. The law states that the government will establish special tribunals for cybercrimes, but it remained unclear how the courts would enforce and interpret the bill.
The Electronic Transaction Act and other laws cite a number of offenses involving the misuse of electronic media and systems and the use of such data in other crimes. The act also stipulates that cyberterrorism resulting in a death is punishable by the death penalty or life imprisonment.
The Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is responsible for the establishment, operation, and maintenance of telecommunications and has complete control of all content broadcast over telecommunication channels. Despite a 2011 PTA ban on using virtual private networks (VPNs) and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP), at year’s end VPNs and VOIP were both accessible.
NGO and internet-freedom observers reported that the government intensified its surveillance of activists and journalists online, resulting in disappearances of numerous social media activists. In May the FIA informed media outlets it was investigating as many as 200 social media accounts on charges of “spreading negative material against the army and other institutions.” There were also reports that the government used surveillance software.
According to the PTA, as of November there were approximately 50 million broadband subscribers, representing approximately 24.5 percent internet penetration.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom but screened and censored cultural events. There was government interference with art exhibitions, musical, and cultural activities. All such events require a government-issued permit (a “no objection certificate”) in order to be held. The Ministry of Culture operated the Central Board of Film Censors, which previewed and censored sexual content and any content that glorified Indian heroes, leaders, or military figures in foreign and domestic films.
The constitution and laws provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, but these freedoms were subject to restrictions.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
By law district authorities may prevent gatherings of more than four persons without police authorization. The law permits the government to ban all rallies and processions, except funeral processions, for security reasons.
Authorities generally prohibited Ahmadis, a religious minority, from holding conferences or gatherings. Ahmadis cited a December 2016 Punjab provincial police raid on the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community headquarters in Rabwah as evidence of worsening conditions for the community. In May an antiterrorism court sentenced two Ahmadis who were arrested during the raid to three years in prison.
Several protests, strikes, and demonstrations, both peaceful and violent, took place throughout the country. The government generally prevented political and civil society groups of any affiliation from holding demonstrations in Islamabad’s red zone, a restricted area that includes a diplomatic enclave and federal government buildings, citing security restrictions that limit all public rallies and gatherings in the area.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution provides for freedom of association subject to certain restrictions imposed by law. The government maintained a series of policies that steadily eroded the freedom of international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) to access the communities they serve. For many project activities, INGOs must request government permission in the form of no-objection certificates. INGOs, UN organizations, and international missions are required to obtain such certificates before they can conduct most in-country travel or initiate new projects.
In 2015 the government adopted a new online registration regime for INGOs. The process entails extensive document requirements, multiple levels of review, and constant investigations by security and other government offices. On November 27, the government sent letters rejecting registration to certain INGOs. The letters required the named INGOs to close operations within 60 days. The letter offered an appeals process, but the guidelines and criteria were opaque, according to INGOs. As of December 15, at least 17 INGOs had received a rejection letter. No-objection certificates were hard to obtain in certain provinces without an approved registration, thus hindering implementation and monitoring of activities, even for INGOs that had initiated the registration process. INGOs also faced an uptick in visa denials for international staff. The unpredictability of the registration process caused at least one INGO to withdraw its registration application and terminate operations in the country.
The government at both the federal and provincial levels similarly restricted the access of foreign-funded local NGOs through a separate registration regime, no-objection certificates, and other requirements. Authorities required NGOs to obtain no-objection certificates before accepting foreign funding, booking facilities or using university spaces for events, or working on sensitive human rights issues. Even when local NGOs receiving foreign funding were appropriately registered, their certificates were denied. Furthermore, domestic NGOs with all required certificates faced government harassment.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement and for uninhibited foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government limited these rights.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government provided temporary legal status to approximately 1.4 million Afghans formally registered and holding proof of registration (PoR) cards. In February the federal cabinet approved: 1) the extension of PoR cards in two one-year increments, with the first increment valid through December 31; 2) the creation of specific visa categories for Afghans, such as investment, skilled and unskilled labor, student, medical, and spousal visas with a path to naturalization; 3) support for a national refugee law; and 4) the documentation of undocumented Afghans in the country. An estimated 600,000 undocumented Afghans migrants resided in the country.
There were reports of harassment and extortion of Afghan refugees by provincial authorities, police, and host communities. UNHCR reported that, from January to October, there were 3,345 arrests and detentions of refugees. All those arrested were released, 76 percent without charges, often following the intervention of UNHCR or its implementing partners. Arrests spiked in February, with the highest number of refugee arrests and detentions countrywide during any single month in the previous two years, largely due to security operations such as Radd-ul-Fasaad, initiated by the government in the wake of terrorist attacks early in the year.
Harassment of Afghan refugees decreased during the year, although individual cases of harassment persisted. Refugee accounts of harassment ranged from public protests against the presence of Afghan refugees by local communities to individual stories of harassment by law enforcement officials.
In-country Movement: Government restrictions on access to certain areas of FATA, KP, and Balochistan, often due to security concerns, hindered freedom of movement of persons. The government required an approved no-objection certificate for travel to areas of the country it designated as “sensitive.”
Foreign Travel: The law prohibits travel to Israel, and the country’s passports include a statement that they are “valid for all countries except Israel.” Passport applicants must list their religious affiliation and, if Muslims, affirm a declaration that the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement was a false prophet. Ahmadi representatives reported the word “Ahmadi” was written on their passports if they refused to sign the declaration. According to policy, government employees and students must obtain no-objection certificates from the government before traveling abroad. Authorities rarely enforced this requirement for students, however.
The government prohibited persons on an exit control list from departing the country. The stated purpose of the list was to prevent departure from the country of “persons involved in antistate activities, terrorism, or related to proscribed organizations and those placed on the orders of superior courts.” Those on the list had the right to appeal to the courts to have their names removed.
Exile: During the year the government refused the return of immigrants deported from Europe. One European mission reported several deportees were refused entry as unidentifiable Pakistani citizens, despite having passports issued by Pakistani embassies abroad. Some NGOs commented the government increased restrictions on the issuance of identity and proof of nationality documents, such as passports, from its missions abroad.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
Large population displacements continued as a result of militant activity and military operations in FATA. A total of 5.3 million residents of FATA were displaced since 2008, some of them multiple times. Of those, approximately five million had returned as of the end of October. The government and UN agencies such as UNHCR, UNICEF, and the UN World Food Program (WFP) collaborated to assist and protect those affected by conflict. Once evacuated, IDPs received immunizations, with many of the children receiving them for the first time in five years. The state and relief organizations placed special emphasis on polio, as many IDP children had been vulnerable to the disease due to the Taliban-imposed ban on immunizations in their home regions. In some areas an estimated 50 percent of the IDP population had been displaced five years or longer, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. Those displaced by conflict generally resided with host families, in rented accommodations, or to a lesser extent, in camps. Several IDP populations settled in informal settlements outside of major cities, such as Lahore and Karachi.
The return of IDPs displaced by Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency, Operations Khyber I, II, III, and IV in Khyber Agency, and other military activities continued. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 329,012 families had returned to FATA and 32,469 families remained displaced as of October 31. Since 2015, 90 percent of the total IDP population had returned to FATA. As of September 27, 66 to 94 percent of IDPs had returned to their home province.
The government required humanitarian organizations assisting civilians displaced by military operations to request no-objection certificates to access all agencies in FATA. According to humanitarian agencies and NGOs, the certificate application process was cumbersome and projects faced significant delays in their start-up. The government maintained IDP camps inside and near the FATA agencies where military operations took place, despite access and security concerns raised by humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian agency workers providing assistance in the camps were exposed to danger when travelling to and within FATA. UN agencies maintained access to the camps and the affected areas mainly through local NGOs.
There were no reports of involuntary returns. Many IDPs reportedly wanted to return home, despite the lack of local infrastructure, housing, and available service delivery and the strict control that security forces maintained over returnees’ movements through extensive checkpoints. Other IDP families delayed their return or chose some family members to remain in the settled areas of KP where regular access to health care, education, and other social services were available. For IDPs who were unwilling or unable to return, the government coordinated support with the United Nations and other international organizations. The WFP distributed a monthly food ration to IDPs in KP displaced by conflict and continued to provide a six-month food ration to IDPs who returned to their areas of origin in FATA.
Despite large-scale recurring displacements of individuals due to natural disasters and disruptions caused by terrorist activities and counterterrorist operations, the government had not adopted specific legislation to tackle internal displacement problems. In addition, the National Disaster Management Act of 2010 does not provide any definition of IDPs or their rights.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: There were no reported cases matching the legal definition of refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting asylum or refugee status. The country lacks a legal and regulatory framework for the management of refugees and migration. The law does not exclude asylum seekers and refugees from provisions regarding illegal entry and stay. In the absence of a national refugee legal framework, UNHCR conducted refugee status determination under its mandate, and the country generally accepted UNHCR decisions to grant refugee status and allowed asylum seekers (who were still undergoing the procedure) as well as recognized refugees to remain in the country pending identification of a durable solution.
Employment: There is no formal document allowing refugees to work legally, but there is no law prohibiting refugees from working in the country. Many refugees worked as day laborers or in informal markets, and local employers often exploited refugees in the informal labor market with low or unpaid wages. Women and children were particularly vulnerable, accepting underpaid and undesirable work.
Access to Basic Services: One-third of registered Afghans lived in one of 54 refugee villages, while the remaining two-thirds lived in host communities in rural and urban areas and sought to access basic services in those communities. Afghan refugees could avail themselves of the services of police and the courts, but some, particularly the poor, were afraid to do so. There were no reports of refugees denied access to a health facility because of their nationality.
The constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of five and 16, regardless of their nationality. Any refugee registered with both UNHCR and the government-run Commissionerate of Afghan Refugees was, in theory, admitted to public education facilities after filing the proper paperwork. In practice access to schools was on a space-available basis as determined by the principal, and most registered Afghans attended private Afghan schools or schools sponsored by the international community. For older students, particularly girls in refugee villages, access to education remained difficult. Afghans who grew up in Pakistan needed student visas to attend universities, but they qualified for student visas based on their PoR cards. Afghan students were eligible to seek admission to Pakistani public and private colleges and universities.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement from other countries and did not facilitate local integration. The government does not accord Afghan refugees Pakistani citizenship.
The Ministry of States and Frontier Regions and Ministry of the Interior’s National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on May 11 to document unregistered Afghans in the country. The MOU established 21 documentation centers in areas with high concentrations of unregistered Afghans. Under the MOU, NADRA agreed to issue new identity cards, called Afghan citizen cards (ACCs), over a period of six months. According to UNHCR, the ACCs provided undocumented Afghans legal protection from arbitrary arrests, detention, or deportation under the Foreigner’s Act and would “allow Afghans to stay in Pakistan for the time being.” If cardholders leave the country, they relinquish their status. After the documentation period concludes at the end of January 2018, only new births to existing ACC cardholders will be recorded. Any undocumented Afghans encountered in the country after the registration period would be vulnerable to detention and deportation under the Foreigners Act.
Statelessness continued to be a problem. There is no national legislation on statelessness, and the government does not recognize the existence of stateless persons. International and national agencies estimated there were possibly thousands of stateless persons as a result of the 1947 and 1971 partitions of India and Pakistan and of Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively. In addition, UNHCR estimated there were 300,000 Rohingya living in the country, a large percentage of whom were believed to be stateless.