As it always goes, the freedoms of the people are once again sacrificed to the whims of politicians. Pakistan’s problem of missing activists, which was renewed by the arrests of two Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters, continues again with Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal purporting to further this problem by developing a policy to patrol social media.

After China’s dictatorial step this week, Ahsan Iqbal, not wanting to miss out on any authoritarian activities, announced plans to formulate a framework, under the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), to monitor social media in order to prevent it from being used as a tool to malign national institutions and spread anarchy or extremism in the country.

Iqbal’s rhetoric, as well as his singling out the “parliament” to be protected along the judiciary and army from speech, indicates that the emphasis of this policy will be more on dampening criticism of politics, rather than preventing extremism or hate speech.

There is always a dangerous vagueness in policies to patrol speech, which almost always result in violation of human rights. The disappearance of activists has increased since the passing of the Prevention of Cyber Crime Act, 2015, a very uncertain law with vague definitions of ‘malign’. If Iqbal is to design a policy, he should word it very precisely, so an average person tweeting could know the difference between reasonable criticism and inflammatory verbal attacks.

Moreover, the idea to include the parliament in the realms of protection from speech is against the very essence of the democratic structure. Parliamentarians are representatives of the people and are answerable to them; Iqbal’s purporting to include parliamentarians is no more than a political ploy to protect the sitting government of the day and target the opposition.

Ahsan Iqbal joins the majority of PML-N leaders, in saying contradictory statements from their party line one after the after. It is bewildering that Iqbal is the one to make this statement, since the arrest of PML-N supporters was harshly criticized by Nawaz Sharif – his party’s president. Initially agreeing with this stance, and despite the FIA being under his own Ministry, Ahsan Iqbal has been unable to come up with any information on the arrested activists.

They might differ in many regards, but Ahsan Iqbal seems to follow the footsteps of his predecessor Nisar Ali Khan in being opposed to free speech by clamping down on social media.