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Blocked…. then what about my freedom of expression?

Twitter has given many a voice and provided a great way of quick communication. Twitter has given us an amazing opportunity to express our views on “as and when” basis. We are able to express our anger and frustrations on any matter. We can attract the attention of a particular person or institute by tagging her. Where we have so much freedom, there comes its abuse as well. Some of us express our outrage on various matters while others among us protect certain things in the same matter.

I have observed a perception that blocking someone is against the freedom of speech. Some perceive it as a kind of running away from dialogue or argument. I don’t think it’s the real case. It’s more about choosing the company we want to keep. By blocking someone we exercise our right to see the content we want to see. Blocked accounts are still in a position to actively express their views. Their content is still reachable to those who want their content. Those who blocked others, for whatever reason, are just not receiving their content anymore. More than 20 people have blocked me and I am just fine with this. With this blocking they are not abusing any of my right; instead, they are exercising their own right to block any unwanted content. This is the case when a personal account blocks another personal account. If an account representing a state institution or paid from taxpayer money blocks general public, will it be any different?

Blocked by Govt-Funded accounts?

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has its active (but one-way) presence on Twitter through @reportpemra. This account has blocked me for my tweet “Dear @reportpemra, who the hell r u to RT this tweet? Mind ur business.” The tweet in question was of Khawaja M Asif saying “PTI is finding it difficult to keep its rank & file united. Postponement of intraparty elections is prevention against disintegration…” This incident happened on May 27, 2016.

Another person @RazaAliKhan_ shared that he is blocked by Punjab’s Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (@smucmo) for saying “if a tweet could represent the PMLN mentality, here it is”. Here tweet in Q was a tweet by @smumo comparing two pics, one of dancing girls in a PTI jalsa and the other with girls on motorbikes with a caption “Take your pick: Entertainment or Empowerment”. This tweet of @smumo appears to be deleted.  I am blocked by individuals and now by one state institution. I don’t mind if individuals block anyone for reasons recorded above but we must be concerned when state institutions start blocking its citizen.

Women Empowerment, Twitter block, Punjab, Yasir Cheema

Which right is affected?

Blocking users by state institutions and Govt-funded accounts amount to an abuse of constitutionally protected rights. The affected rights, in my opinion, are access to information under article 19A, Equality before the law under article 25 and Non-discrimination in respect of access to public places under article 26.  With this blocking, PEMRA has placed restrictions on me to access the information as and when shared by this official account.

Blocking users by state institutions and Govt-funded accounts amount to an abuse of constitutionally protected rights. The affected rights are access to information under article 19A, Equality before the law under article 25 and Non-discrimination in respect of access to public places under article 26.  With this blocking, PEMRA has placed restrictions on me to access the information as and when shared by this official account.

Online presence of state institutions is a great thing and most of the time we have only one-way communication. In one way communication state institutions keep us updated on their work areas. PEMRA itself is the one. SBP is another wonderful example. SBP update us on its various reports, Policies and updates. Not to forget another one-way communication account that within limits of 140 characters shakes up the “democracy”. On two ways communication by state intuitions, the best example I can recall is the @HealthKPGovt account where you can ask a question and you will get the reply. Many of the users, including journalists, have asked @HealthKPGovt to clarify its position on a certain matter.  Such two-way communication has brought public much closer tot eh public body.

Institutional Values not Personal.

Media managers behind official accounts of state institutions have to come out of their personal affiliations and beliefs. When you are using an official account, you are there to reflect the position of that office/institution and not personal. You have all rights to express your view from your personal account. When you are entrusted to represent a state institution then you have to do it keeping in mind the rights of citizens protected under the constitution. I urge the media managers handling accounts of state institutions to unblock all the users and not to block any in future. I don’t wish to see such matters land in our already-loaded courts to secure our fundamental rights. A basic sense of democracy and fundamental rights should be enough to prevent all such childish actions.

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Yasir Cheema

Yasir Cheema is a Civil Engineer by training and currently working as Resident Engineer for Surbana Jurong Pte. Ltd. in Singapore. He writes at this portal about Governance, Public policy, Institutional development, Construction practices, and procedures.

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