What is ‘Charahgar’ and why is there a need for legal aid?
A free, independent and diverse media is essential for progressive democracy. While this principle is well established and understood, today we are looking at a scenario where much about the conventional media system is changing. A growing number of new actors are becoming a part of the media industry, such as bloggers and social activists. These actors working primarily online are working under the same constitutional and global frameworks that define freedom of expression. However, in many countries advocates and practitioners of digital expression are increasingly targeted by state and non state actors.
Thus, there is a growing need for the provision of legal safeguards that help protect the right to free digital expression.
In Pakistan, the recent years have seen journalists and many social media activists, bloggers, vloggers being harassed, intimidated, deprived of their liberty, physically attacked and even killed for stating their opinions both online and offline. With the introduction of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA), the problem has been exacerbated as the subjective phrasing of the statute gives a wide range of powers to the state and state authorities, leaving the law open to abuse and arbitrary implementation.
The law was strongly opposed by civil society members and journalists for breaching human rights, and we have seen this to become true through a numerous instances where journalists have been unlawfully arrested detained and tortured for expressing dissent online.
In the midst of this chaos, ‘Charahgar’, a legal aid centre initiated by Media Matters for Democracy, aims to provide free legal assistance to journalists and media who have been targeted for exercising their right of journalistic expression online. Charahgar seeks to facilitate those who are standing up to the prevalent persecution and approach Courts in order to safeguard the right of free speech granted under Article 19 of the constitution and to restore democratic values. Through a network of lawyers deployed in the major cities throughout the country, we are all set to work towards our goals of securing the internet as a safe space for journalists and other media actors.
What can ‘Charahgar’ do?
Please refer to Charahgarh?s Terms of Engagement and Reference to know more about the type of cases we can and cannot support.
We can provide legal defense and aid to journalists and media outlets who are sued, whether under any civil, criminal or administrative law, as a result of or in connection with performing their journalistic duties in online spaces.
Considering the high number of recent cases against journalists, bloggers and media outlets specifically under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016, we provide legal aid and support to journalists who are incriminated for their digital expression and/or journalism.
We provide legal defense to journalists and media who have been threatened, harassed, unlawfully detained, subjected to violence or whose rights have otherwise been violated as a result of or in connection with their journalistic work or expression in online spaces.
We also provide legal advice to journalists, bloggers, and media outlets in sub-judice matters, and otherwise as and when required, provided that it?s substantially linked to their ability to perform their professional duties independently and freely.
We can also support the initiation of strategic litigation aiming to advance [digital] media freedom[s] and free expression in online spaces.
Since the right to freedom of expression is not an absolute one, cases involving hate speech, defined as actual incitement to direct violence or hatred, will not be entertained.
Due to a limited pool of resources, priority will be given to cases that pertain to digital journalism and expression in online spaces.
Our limited resources dictate that we limit the focus of our interventions on cases that fall within our mandate. For this reason, cases linked to any employment, unlawful termination or labour rights issues, as important as they are, will not be catered under Charahgar, unless there is a demonstrated link to our mandate [i.e. termination for performing journalistic duties].
‘Charahgar’ stands against workplace harassment for women in media
We are happy to announce that Charahgar will now be able to provide legal support and advice to women in media who face workplace harassment, especially those who have no available means of acquiring legal aid and support. Here’s what the legal support from Charahgar entails:
We can help by providing legal advice to the members of the community who face workplace harassment in media through our in-house counsel and can help ascertain the future course of action for the contactee.
We can, if need be, provide financial support to engage a lawyer (ideally through the Charahgar network) to engage a legal counsel through the duration of the case. The financial support, after necessary review, is provided directly to the legal counsel.
In addition, through our initiative ‘Dastgir’ we can also provide psychological counseling to women facing workplace harassment.