The reports that General (retired) Amir Azeem Bajwa has been appointed Member Technical at Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) are extremely concerning and this appointment poses a threat to digital freedoms because the authority also serves as the gatekeeper of country’s internet.
The Member Technical is the one who also serves as the chairman of the authority and tech reporter Aamir Atta’s report at ProPakistani.pk quotes a PTA source confirming it’s only a matter of time before Bajwa is notified also as the chairman of the authority.
Bajwa is the former Director General (DG) of the government/military-run Special Communications Organisation (SCO) which operated in the northern areas of the country. There are also rumours floating around that the SCO has had a sort of rift with the PTA in the past in trying to span the SCO’s jurisdiction throughout the country and compete with private telecom operators.
PTA is given absolute authority in deciding what to block on the internet and in most cases, it’s this authority that also interprets if the nature of the content is against the laws. The rights activists have previously voiced concerns regarding potential abuse of open-to-interpretation clauses of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) by the authority and with the former military man at the helm of affairs, the concerns are even greater.
This is besides that fact that for the past couple of years, crackdown against social media activists and journalists has grown. Especially against those who criticise military and exercise dissenting voices.
Not to mention the army’s rhetoric of Pakistan facing a threat from the ‘fifth generation hybrid warfare’ involving the digital media. Amid all these concerns, this appointment is bound to be seen as threatening. I, therefore urge the government to address all these concerns and act to protect the democratic freedoms of its citizens including digital rights.