We can’t live without and are increasingly dependent on our phones but this also means that the chances of cyber-bullying has risen exponentially.
In Pakistan, when things go south, scorned partners are extremely likely to launch into bullying and threats online. Society has a repressive reaction to women who invest in romantic relationships outside the hetropatriarchal structures of marriage, which is why women are more likely to feel pressured to give into their harasser’s demands for fear of incurring familial (read: societal) wrath. However, women, and indeed all those who face online harassment, must remember that there exist safeguards against such bullying and that they do not have to take it quietly.
Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016
According to this law, “Whoever with dishonest intention gains unauthorized access to any information system or data shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees or with both.” (Ch. II, clause 3)
The act provides penalties for unauthorized or non-consensual transmission of private data, the use of hate speech, electronic forgery, electronic fraud, identity theft, unauthorized issuance of SIM cards, and cyber-terrorism. Cyber-terrorism includes spreading rumors or false information about terrorist activities to incite fear, or racial profiling to stereotype a certain group of people. The act also covers the penalty for “malicious code”, which, put simply, is any computer program or application written to harm the device of a known or unknown person or persons. Spamming (bombarding a clearly uninterested recipient with messages) and spoofing (with “dishonest attention”, sending a counterfeit source of information to a recipient while having them believe the source is real) are also covered by the act.
There is a separate section (Section 21) dedicated to the legal proceedings for the sharing of sensitive pictures. It is important to remember that minors are protected by this law as well, and that any form of media depicting a minor committing sexual acts will result in punishment for the perpetrator, not the minor.
The act ensures that a legal procedure is followed in order to reach a just conclusion. It states that the first step would be to file a complaint with the National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C) FIA, followed by an investigation into the matter once the perpetrator has been identified, ending with a legal hearing and then the subsequent punishment.
Penalties range from a minimum for Rs100,000 in a fine and a few months in jail to over ten million rupees in fines and up to twenty years in jail.
Quite importantly, the act also promises complete anonymity for those who file complaints.
Here is a link to the Act: http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1462252100_756.pdf
Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010
This act provides a comprehensive framework of rights for women who encounter harassment at the workplace. Harassment is defined as “any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favors or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes, causing interference with work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment, or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply with such a request or is made a condition for employment.” (Section 2(h))
And if the perpetrator fits any of the criteria for being a harasser, then an Inquiry Committee will be formed to investigate the matter. One member of the three-person committee must be a woman.
Under Section 4 of the Act, penalties might be minor (censure, recovery of the compensation payable to the complainant, withholding of increments) or major (fines, dismissal or removal from service, retirement). A woman may file a complaint directly with the Ombudsman or the Inquiry Committee.
Here is a link to the latest version of the Act, amended slightly in 2014: http://www.na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1399368475_218.pdf
The Digital Rights Foundation
This NGO has been working since 2012 to take ensure that people feel safe on online forums, especially social media. The Foundation contains PDF copies of every iteration of every legal document that exists to protect online rights.
On the eve of 2016, they also launched their Cyber Harassment Helpline and it has since averaged around 90 calls per month from both men and women.
The helpline’s number is 0800-39393 and is operative from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays.
Their email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nighat Dad, the executive director of the NGO and one of the organizers of this year’s Aurat March, believes it is of the utmost importance that women and men be aware of their rights when dealing with harassers online.
Unfortunately, statistics show that it is mostly women who are harassed (in 2018, 59% of the calls received by the Foundation were from women). Given the social stigma attached with women exerting their agency in the first place, it is imperative that women be aware of their rights. These statutes and organizations exist as tools at the disposal of women (and men) who face harassment and quietly bear its undue consequences.
If you are being harassed, reach out. If you sent pictures while in a then-consensual and happy relationship, remember that you have done nothing wrong. You have rights and the law protects them. Make sure you protect them too.