The Express Tribune Editorial 23 November 2019

Social media access


The government is reportedly mulling over a ban on social media access in government offices, fearing that the related websites and apps could lead to leaks of important data. But members of the National Assembly panel hearing the proposal quickly pointed out that the move could well be a ploy to curb freedom of speech. It could make it harder for honest officials to let the world know of the misdeeds of elected and unelected officials and the misuse of our taxes. The truth is that whistleblowers are essential to keep government corruption in check.
Many social media chat engines are encrypted, making them difficult to hack or trace, allowing upstanding government servants to use them to leak information when they deem it necessary. A local alternative, especially one developed with cooperation from the government, would invariably have a ‘backdoor access key’ that the government could use to snoop on employees and citizens alike. This would discourage whistleblowing and even allow unscrupulous officials to spy on the private discussions of various people. Meanwhile, many government departments and officers still use WhatsApp, Gmail, and other free services instead of their official email accounts. This is a much greater security threat as there is no track of ostensibly above board official correspondence as these servers are not under the control of the Pakistani government.
If the government were truly concerned about data leaks, criminalising the use of private emails for public business would be a more acceptable starting point. As for the government’s claim to be working to stop fake news on social media, it is clear that their last effort, a Twitter account called “FakeNewsBusterMoIB”, focuses mostly on protecting the government, and worryingly often, discrediting frivolous tabloid reporting about Prime Minister Imran Khan’s personal life. The government also wants to start releasing “authentic government news” on social media. Why not let the existing public and private news media handle this role? Because when media outlets deemed reliable by the government later issue authentic reports which make the ruling party look bad, it would be harder to call them ‘fake news’, thus placing the government in a bind.


As Lahore suffocates


Perhaps if everyone is done with their witticisms and political bickering we can now start to focus on the most important issue at hand. Let’s cut to the chase; there is no denying that the smog situation in Lahore is dire as the Air Quality Index has exceeded 400 — with below 300 being the safety level. And all that the authorities are seen doing is indulging in a useless blame game. While some accuse the Indian crop farmers, others blame the dense traffic caused by the Azadi March. These reasons are side-splitting at best; not because of how ludicrous they are but because no one seems to have any sense of what climate change and global warming actually signify. In short, we are trying to ‘find’ the cause of a problem we don’t understand.
It is pitiful to see that, as local officials act empty-headed, Amnesty International, an external human rights organisation, has issued an “urgent action” warning for the toxic smog that has engulfed Lahore. “Lahore has not had a single day of healthy air this year,” Amnesty said while calling on members from around the world to confront Pakistani authorities for devaluing the crisis. What is all the more alarming is that every single citizen in Lahore is at a serious health risk.
Access to a clean and healthy environment is a basic human right and Lahore is suffocating under the outright ignorance of the leading few. As global warming intensifies it becomes a given that the environmental crisis simultaneously becomes a humanitarian one. Pakistan will be amongst the worst affected by it due to the geographical position close to the equator. Our officials blame individual events, but the problem and evidently its solution is a collective one. We need to understand the problem of global warming through the immense literature that continues to be published on it before acting collectively as a nation towards a solution. This could be our last call from the gods to unite an increasingly polarised world.


Quality of police investigation


Expressing displeasure over the police investigation in a child sexual abuse case, Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court Justice Athar Minallah has set guidelines for inquiry of such cases and made it mandatory for such offences to be investigated by no less than an officer of the rank of assistant superintendent of police. Rejecting a petition seeking bail in a child sexual abuse case, the judge criticised the police investigation and instructed that the standards of such investigations be improved. The petitioner, Zeeshan, had sought bail in a case registered on Aug 20 this year. The complainant has alleged that his child was sexually abused. The judge’s instructions lay bare flaws in police investigations, which reflect poorly on the police’s image. The police charge sheet said charges had been framed against the petitioner but the investigation did not find incriminating material against him. The investigating officer told the court that his investigation was limited to recording the statement of the complainant. The court said the case had not been investigated properly. Later, a DIG while appearing in person in court admitted that the case had not been investigated properly.
The court ordered that in view of the recent increase in reported cases of child abuse, the executive authorities should exercise utmost care in such cases. The court noted, “Due to poor quality of investigation and lapses on part of the prosecution, persons involved in heinous crimes go unpunished… children require extraordinary care and protection, particularly when incidents involving sexual abuse and molestation are reported frequently.”
The court has blamed lapses on the part of the prosecution for letting culprits off the hook. The recent case of a paedophile illustrates this lapse well. The maniac had served jail time in foreign countries but in spite of this he was hired as a government consultant. Justice demands engagement with public affairs with the “eyes of mankind.”

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