Lahore: Cultural patriarchy and ongoing lawlessness has driven a surge in the harassment of women online in Pakistan, say digital rights activists.

Data compiled by National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C) run by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) indicates that 3,000 cyber crime complaints have been lodged as of August this year. The number of complaints is likely to increase up to 5,000, says NR3C’s statistical record.

In 2015, total numbers of complaints were 1,500; half the current number of complaints so far this year.

Another report by NR3C released in 2011 shows a consistent increase in online crimes as 62 cases were recorded in 2007, 287 cases in 2008 and 312 cases in 2010. “These cases comprise only 10 per cent of the cyber crimes in Pakistan,” the report states.

“Women are bearing online harassment and blackmailing, but seldom turn to external sources especially law enforcing agencies,” Nighat Daad, head of Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), told News Lens Pakistan.

According to Daad, there are shortcomings in the present anti cyber crime mechanisms, developed by the state’s law agencies.

“In 2007, the FIA launched the National Response Center for Cyber Crime (NR3C), a complaint procedure that requires complainant to disclose her/his details including name, CNIC number, home address and contact details,” Shahid Hassan, Deputy Director Cyber Crimes Unit, NR3C, Lahore, told News Lens Pakistan.

The complainant has to visit the office of NR3C nearest branch for further inquiries of the complaint. The data remains confidential, Hassan said.

This procedure acts as a hurdle in pursuing their case proceedings with NR3C, claimed Daad.

Filing complaints involves a three-step procedure.

“The process of NR3C consists of complaint registration that takes two weeks. The inquiry stage takes a month and a half in which the investigators identify the cyber-criminal and prepare essential forensic evidence for lodging an FIR on the complainant’s behalf with case proceedings in the sessions court,” Hassan said.

“We receive online applications, emails and complaints submitted by hand. The latter is easier to register for us as the former two procedures are initially registered and then transferred to us. This takes at least two weeks.”

He said cyber harassment for sexual motive on social media especially Facebook has surpassed every other type of cyber crime during the last two years.

“The record shows 80 per cent prosecution ratio of the cases registered with NR3C, however, there is no yardstick to measure the percentage of unreported cases of cyber-crimes,” said Hassan.

Punjab covers 65 per cent of the annual cyber crime complaints, says Mahmood Hassan, Forensic Lab Head of NR3C headquarters.

Shahid Hassan said that women from urban areas have been boldly pursuing their harassment cases with the CCU as compared to the women belonging to rural and tribal areas.

About the complainants’ confidentiality and the CCU’s policy of action, he said that Pakistan’s social justice is a complainant based system. Legal prosecution without complainants directly pursuing their cases is impossible in Pakistan’s judicial mechanism, Hassan explained.

Another study by Bytes for All Pakistan on Pakistan’s internet landscape published in July 2016 stated that the gradual increase in ICT usage by Pakistani women under 30 has been discouraged due to the increased trend of online harassment targeting women.

“Digital harassment has had a grave real life impact on more than 95 percent of females who consulted DRF,” Daad said.

Hamza Irshad, Digital Security Trainer at DRF, blames a culture of misogyny. “It is because of the presence of common misogyny and sexist elements in every hierarchy of law enforcement structure which makes getting legal help for a female as the last and least favorable option,” Irshad told News Lens Pakistan.

Ahmed Ali’s sister is a recent victim of cyber harassment by her former fiancé. The ex-fiancé became angry when she returned her engagement ring to him after their engagement was called off.

“He demanded Rs 50,000 from her, as he claimed that the ring’s price at the time of purchase was more than its present selling price in the market,” Ali told News Lens Pakistan.

“My poor family couldn’t manage such a big amount. In revenge, her ex-fiancé circulated her morphed pictures and personal details including her mobile number, and defamed her as a prostitute,” Ali recounted.

His attempts to lodge a police report were thwarted.

He said, “I went to the nearby police station to report it. Instead of lodging an FIR, the inspector covertly asked for my sister’s pictures and phone number. Moreover, Rs 25,000 bribe was also demanded to lodge complaint.”

Ali’s family chose to confine his sister at home. She no longer uses her mobile phone, to avoid further encounters of online sexual defamation.

Sidra Humayun, a women’s rights activist from the Lahore-based campaign group War Against Rape, estimates nine out of ten women face cyber harassment by their current or former partners.

“Sexualized slurs, sexual remarks on body, sex life, character, seduction-based conversation, and rape threats are the major complaints War Against Rape deals with in cyber harassment cases of women of 16 to 30 years,” Humayun told News Lens Pakistan.

During the last six months DRF received more than 250 complaints of profound cyber bullying, 95 per cent of which were lodged by women. The majority were filed by women in ultra-conservative Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“In the year 2014-2015, we were receiving two to three complaints per week. Now the foundation deals with two cases daily on average,” Daad said.

DRF research records show that hacking, phishing, impersonation and doxing to blackmail, harass and bully either for revenge or fun are the most frequently used cybercrime tactics, even in third world countries like Pakistan.

DRF dealt with a case filed by Sughra (not her real name). She was attacked with acid after saying no to her relative for marriage.

The girl fought back by filing a case against the attacker. However, her family is still under severe pressure as the accused relative has threatened to spread her private morphed pictures / videos online if she doesn’t take the case back.

A cyber harassment victim, Syeda from the KP region of Lower Dir, turned to NR3C. “I lodged a complaint and after 10 days, was asked to visit NR3C office in Peshawar. I couldn’t go,” she said.

Syeda’s elder sister Meher is the only one who knows about the harassment.

“There should be a women-friendly complaint mechanism because we cannot even tell our family that someone is abusing us. If we dare to do so or step out of home even for our rights, we will be ripped off,” she told News Lens.


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