Theatre of the Oppressed – privacy and expression rights online


By Haroon Baloch

ISLAMABAD, (May 3, 2016): As one of the awareness raising activities, IMPACT (India, Malaysia, Pakistan Advocacy for Change through Technology) team in Pakistan organized an interactive theatre activity titled, “Theatre of the Oppressed” on May 3, 2016 to mark the World Press Freedom day. The activity was organized at Pakistan National Council of Arts in Islamabad in coordination with Association for Progressive Communications.

The performance aimed to sensitize public and media around digital rights particularly freedom of expression and right to privacy in online spaces. Students of local universities depicted three different situations highlighting issues related to misuse of social media and other online modes of communication resulting in physical threats and censorship issues, especially for marginalized groups including women and religion minorities.

This activity was also witnessed by the head of European Union delegation in Pakistan H.E. Jean-François Cautain and his stafff who lauded the activity. Ambassador Cautain in his remarks said that every individual in an open and democratic society has several rights including right to access every thing, right to express and also to hide any thing. But these rights also come with duties and responsibilities, and if anyone abuses the rights, it means he is not part of an open society anymore.


“Basic principles of an open society are tolerance and respect; for example respect for other religions, race, and sex”: ambassador Cautain said, adding that everyone has the right to express freely and others have their choice to agree or disagree. He said in this context the upcoming Cyber Crime Bill is important for Pakistan and he is happy that there has been a continued debate on the bill in the Senate.


A large audience including university students, teachers, journalists and human rights activists witnessed this activity and at the end also expressed their thoughts on the growing internet related issues in Pakistan, especially for women and marginalized groups.

Bytes for All Pakistan, Internet Rights Are Human Rights workshop

By Haroon Baloch

Workshop participants role-playing

Workshop participants role-playing

“It was the first time I attended a training about Internet rights. I had very little idea about this topic before attending, but this two-day extensive workshop titled ‘Internet Rights are Human Rights’ helped me at great length to better understand these rights, especially in online spaces.” – Muhammad Ali Rana, Assistant Professor, Media Studies Department, Fatima Jinnah Women University.

Ali Rana was among ten participants selected for the Internet Rights are Human Rights (IRHR) workshop held with human rights defenders, women’s rights defenders, journalists and members of academia, as part of the project Advocacy for Change through Technology in India, Malaysia and Pakistan (IMPACT). The project is using the Internet Rights are Human Rights curriculum to provide human rights defenders with knowledge, tools, networks and support to respond to these violations, and to communicate more safely online.

The training, organised by Bytes for All, Pakistan (B4A) and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), took place in Rawalpindi between 17 and 18 October 2015. It focused on international rights regimes and local legislations related to restrictions on freedom of expression, access to information, privacy-related issues and online surveillance, which were discussed during workshop activities. Particularly the discussions during the analysis of case studies focused on local context.

“The agenda of the workshop was quite rich and informative. However, two days was not enough time; it should have been at least three days or more,” said Khurram Gill, a human rights defender working on minorities rights in Faisalabad. Similar thoughts were also shared by other participants, including assistant professor from Fatima Jinnah University Dr. Musarrat Amin.

“The agenda of the workshop was quite rich and informative, however, two days was not enough time, it should have been at least three days or more” said Khurram Gill, a human rights defender working on minorities rights in Faisalabad. Similar thoughts were also shared by other participants, including Assistant Professor from Fatima Jinnah University Dr. Musarrat Amin.

Among the highlights of the sessions, a discussion regarding online campaigning to generate support for missing persons in Pakistan created a heated debate. Cultural and religious values were prominent in the discussions, including through case studies on access to the internet by LGBT individuals and communities in Pakistan.

One participant expressed the view that domestic laws are according to the teachings of Islam and that it was legitimate for the Pakistani telecommunication regulator (PTA) to restrict LGBT websites and social media accounts. This participant believed that cultural values vary across countries, and in Islamic societies, there is not space for LGBT activities.

Several participants provided a counter argument that the right to freedom of expression of LGBT individuals and communities should not be suppressed, because their problems are, after all, problems of the same society that we all belong too. The isolation of LGBT individuals and communities will not solve anything, rather it will further aggravate the situation, especially when it comes to their access to basic needs, such as health, education, work, etc.

Workshop participants and trainers

Workshop participants and trainers

As part of a post-training evaluation, participants expressed their satisfaction with the training methodologies, healthy discussion, and the level of knowledge of the trainers, and command on the respective modules. The trainers of the workshop included Sadaf Khan, Haroon Baloch, Fahad Desmukh and Muhammad Arsalan Ashraf. Country Coordinator IMPACT Tehmina Zafar supervised the training.

B4A is planning to hold second IRHR training in this series in the month of December and has already started on adapting the programme reflecting learnings from the experience of first training. Secure online communication trainings are also in progress, and so far B4A has conducted five one-day sessions with different stakeholders, including HRDs, journalists, and others, to help them improve their digital security practices so that they are able to carry out their work with less risk.