Pakistan’s ‘first cyber harassment hotline’ goes live Dec 1

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Pakistan’s first cyber harassment helpline is set to be launched on December 1, announced the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) on Monday, at their ‘Hamara Internet- Ending Online Violence Against Women’ conference in Islamabad.

Anyone facing online harassment can call in on 0800-39393 to talk in a “free, safe and confidential” environment, read an announcement made on DRF’s Facebook page.

The service aims to provide legal advice, digital security support, psychological counselling and a referral system to victims. “It will begin its operations on Dec 1, 2016,” the DRF said.

According to Nighat Dad; lawyer, internet activist and founder of the DRF, the idea to start a helpline service started with their Hamara Internet campaign.

“We travelled across Pakistan and spoke to girls at universities in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and other cities and provinces to create awareness about online harassment,” she said.

There are several definitions of harassment, said the activist, adding that it was a state where you felt uncomfortable in a situation.

“The same applies for the internet if someone is stalking you, sending unsolicited messages of comments on posts – this can convert into violence, threats or blackmail,” Nighat said.

Explaining the Hamara Internet campaign, she said that the idea was to address online violence – stalking, blackmailing etc.

“We started our campaign a year ago and the objective was to address online harassment, we went into colleges and universities across the country and spoke to students about online harassment and what to do if they were stuck in such a situation, what preventive measures they could take, online safety and privacy and settings on social media; and how to file a report,” she said.

She added that the second part of the campaign focused on the legal remedy – what to do, how to file a report to the Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) cyber crime cell.

“When the girls learnt about these things we started getting so many calls and messages – they realised that if they couldn’t talk to family or friends about this sort of harassment they could come to us,” she said.

The launch of the helpline is part of the DRF’s 16 Days of Activism on Violence Against Women.

Shmyla Khan, the DRF lawyer heading the helpline initiative, said the complainant is guaranteed complete confidentiality.

“We will not be recording any calls and storing any data in order to safeguard the complainant’s right to privacy,” Khan said, adding that the caller’s safety was the initiative’s top priority.

Anis Haroon, an activist and member of the National Commission on Human Rights, said: “It’s a good facility for women because this is a group of women who are willing to support victims of harassment and they have the understanding of the issue because it is a very sensitive issues.”

“I’m afraid very few men and women understand it,” she said, adding that after the harassment law was passed the issue was recognised but how to deal with it and how it worked was not sorted, “only those sensitive to the issue can do it”.