Respected Minister for Information Technology,
This might be a long letter but please bear with us as it is an important one, especially since the issue is so close to your heart — one you fought for two years.
Minister, you must have heard about Naila Rind, a student of University of Sindh in Jamshoro, who allegedly killed herself in her hostel. A top student in her Masters class, Naila, was found hanging from a ceiling fan inside room no. 36 in Marvi hostel. If you still are unaware of this unfortunate event, let us inform you what led her to take her own life.
We are sure you still remember how you burned the midnight oil for the passage of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA).
The law was designed to protect the daughters of Pakistan. We hope you remember, since that’s what you said in one of the meetings while rejecting our criticism on the law.
According to the police, a lecturer in a private school at Jamshoro was blackmailing Naila with her pictures and videos for three months
The credit goes to you. The law was passed last year in August, five months ago, and it contained harsh but vague provisions for cyber stalking, harassment and blackmailing against a natural person.
Minister, it seems that your ministry has neglected to inform law enforcement authorities about their role and jurisdiction under the new law. A law which was enacted in the name of ‘protecting daughters of Pakistan’ couldn’t save the precious life of one daughter, namely Naila.
Naila was blackmailed
Let’s get to the bottom of Naila’s suicide.
According to the initial investigation and First Information Report (FIR) copy, it turns out Naila was cyber blackmailed by a man named Anis Khaskheli.
Police officials say this lecturer in a private school at Jamshoro, was blackmailing Naila with her pictures and videos for three months.
After the blackmailing became too much for her, Naila took her life.
This is exactly the kind of situation your law was intended to address, so why are all the law enforcement authorities, from the police to the Federal Investigation Authority (FIA), so clueless about how to deal with the situation?
The ignorance of the authorities is on full display in the FIR by the police.
Minister, they have included section 9 and 13 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Ordinance 2009 against the accused.
Let us refresh your memory. This Ordinance was passed in the Musharraf era and is a law that you yourself were a vocal opponent of.
Minister, we think that you’ll find it quite interesting that this very Ordinance, mentioned in the FIR, has lapsed eight years ago.
Have a close look at the FIR.
This FIR is an indictment of the failures of the state. A reminder that awareness and education about online harassment and ethical use of information and communications technology should have been the first step before enacting legislation which is unable to address the issue at hand.
The responsibility of the Ministry does not, and should not, end with passing legislation. In the rush to pass a problematic law, the Ministry neglected to think through ground realities of online harassment and the difficulties in applying the law under the current system.
By assigning the task of enforcing a law relating to cyber harassment, stalking and bullying to a highly centralised federal agency with regional offices confined to Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar, the Ministry is failing to reach women like Naila Rind.
Around the world, as you well know Minister, cyber harassment is within the domain of the police stations.
The Ministry has fundamentally misunderstood the extent and nature of the problem. When cases turn up in these areas, there is a lack of clarity about what to do.
The law is completely misunderstood by the local police.
As you must have realised by now, Naila was driven to end her life when she constantly threatened and intimidated.
There is no support system out there for women to seek help; no emotional guidance on how to deal with gender-based threats and cyber harassment.
As a society, why do we fail to to take seriously the psychological toll of online harassment?
It has been pointed out that Sindh University had made no psychiatrists available to the students. There was no place where a student like Naila could go to seek professional help for the psychological trauma she suffered as a result of persistent blackmailing and harassment.
Dear Minister, this suicide should weigh heavy on the conscience of the authorities and the state.
The state seems to be in a rush to pass perfunctory laws such as the PECA without thinking over the implementation or plan to educate law enforcement agencies and the judiciary on the law.
Who are we making these laws for?
If these laws fail to help girls like Naila, then what use are legislative enactments and the pats on the back?
We demand from you and your Ministry:
To make the Rules related to Prevention of Electronic Crime Act 2016 public as soon as possible, and to hold public and inclusive consultations in drafting the Rules
To conduct gender sensitisation training of all relevant law enforcement authorities, including the Police and Cyber Crime Wing of FIA in the light of PECA
To equip the police and Cyber Crime Wing of FIA to deal with such complaints and make the redress mechanism speedy by investing more resources in the process (nearly half of the complaints we receive at Digital Rights Foundation’s Helpline require action by the FIA)
To appoint more women at the Cyber Crime Wing of FIA who are equipped to handle complaints of online harassment so women complainants are not subjected to victim blaming and slut shaming while they reach out to LEAs
To appoint women counselors or psychologists at the Cyber Crime Wing and police stations who can deal with the emotional trauma of victims/survivors of cyber harassment and blackmailing
Minister, in the meanwhile, till the state authorities figure out how to do their job and address this menace, please let victims of cyber harassment and blackmailing know that they can reach out to the Cyber Harassment Helpline at0800-39393 .
Victims do not have to suffer in silence.
We are a small team but we are here to help, listen to and find solutions with you.
Nighat Dad and Shmyla Khan
Cyber Harassment Helpline | Digital Rights Foundation
Nighat Dad is an Advocate of High Court and the Founder of Digital Rights Foundation.
Shmyla Khan is a lawyer by training and the head of DRF’s Cyber Harassment helpline.