Speech winnares Mensenrechtentulp 2016

Op 10 december 2016 heeft de Pakistaanse internetvrijheidactiviste en mensenrechtenverdediger Nighat Dad de Mensenrechtentulp 2016 ontvangen. Lees haar volledige ontvangstspeech hieronder.

Foto: Aad Meijer

"Good evening everyone,

It is a different kind of feeling being here. Let me begin by conveying my warmest thanks to the Dutch Government for honouring me with the Human Rights Tulip Award. I accept this award with great humility on behalf of the people of Pakistan.

I’ve thought a lot about what I wanted to say when I finally held this award in my hands, for this was no simple journey for me. I stand before you today thanks to the support and the votes of thousands of my fellow Pakistanis. This award that I hold in my hands is, and will continue to be, a reminder that my country, my people, rallied behind me.

To speak of the votes, however, is to only tell half the story. I am only able to stand here before because of the hard work that my Digital Rights Foundation family, my little team back home do, and the strength and support that my own family gives me.

Maya Angelou once said, “Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

When I founded Digital Rights Foundation in 2012, it consisted of just two people. We did not have an office, and everything was online. As the workload that we took on expanded over time, so too has my team. I have been privileged to watch Digital Rights Foundation grow and change into something new, and I have been changed in turn.

By every metric, we’re still a pretty small outfit, but thanks to this award that we are able to put more into our latest project: Pakistan’s first cyber-harassment helpline and I am so proud to say that this is regions first cyber harassment helpline.

Sounds very surreal when I introduce the helpline as a reality, because just a few months ago it was a far-sighted dream, the dream that I and my friend Shauna saw together (who is sitting in that corner and flew all the way long from US just to be with me today)  It’s not just another project for me, this is something I wanted to do since I familiarized myself with the threats to women in the online sphere that have strong repercussions in the offline world.

In the span of only a few years, the people of Pakistan have awoken to the power of social media, of their own voices. Through the internet, people have been able to carve out safe spaces for themselves in cyberspace. Religious and ethnic minorities, the sexual minority community, and women from all walks of life have been able to find freedom and safety in spaces online that would not normally be available offline, not without danger to themselves and their loved ones.

However, there is a dark side, which these same groups are only too familiar with. It is a dark side that women and minority groups across the world, including some in this room, will recognise. That an online presence, the ability to express oneself without fear, can nonetheless lead to harassment offline, and worse. Name calling. Photoshopped images. Doxxing. Death threats, rape threats. One amazing woman, Sabeen Mahmood, died last year to help people reclaim their spaces, to voice their opinions without any fear or judgement - in a space that she had built. She was killed because she dared to have a conversation about a conflicted issue. Then earlier this year, Qandeel Baloch, a feminist, a rebel and a social media celebrity defining online spaces on her on her own terms killed in the name of honor, not because of who she was offline but who she chose to be online. She died because her personal information was leaked, because some people could not stand to let her be strong and free to express herself. Her self-expression, her reclamation of her space, her assertion of her sexuality, is what led to her murder. Now when I think about it, I wonder how hard it must have been for these wonderful women to take in all that hate in the absence of any help. Women who have come under peril for doing much less on the internet – some targeted simply because they choose to be online in the same manner as men. In Pakistan, there are many Sabeens and Qandeels. Across the world, there are many Sabeens and Qandeels.

Arundhati Roy once said, “There's really no such thing as the 'voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” Her words constantly remind me of the state in Pakistan where the digital rights framework is repressive.

In this light, it was not surprising – but no less disheartening – for me to discover that close to half of the cyber-harassment cases that Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency dealt with between 2014-2015 related to the harassment of women on social media. And these are only the cases that we know of, women that were brave enough to come forward and report these case. Now our helpline is geared toward women because they need to know that there is support, that there are people that are there to hear them.

I’ll use this opportunity to talk a bit about other challenges that await global digital rights community. The challenges that the governments around the world throw at us by bringing draconian laws to regulate the internet, or just by supporting a stance against human rights - like increased mass surveillance, censorship, zero rating, to name a few. I want to extend my support to my colleagues in the US, in the wake of recent elections and the new president-elect’s stance to shut the internet down if given the chance. I want you all to know that we are with you, and will keep fighting together all to save the internet.

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge my fellow human right defenders from around the world who fight for humanity and for freedom - both in online and in offline spaces. My colleagues at Electronic Frontier Foundation, Community Red, Privacy International, Article 19, Access Now, Bolo Bhi, Tactical Technology Collective, Free Press Unlimited, Open Tech Fund, and of course Justice and Peace and many more. They are not just fighting to preserve digital human rights but have always supported each other like one big happy family.

They say that when you want something done right, you should do it yourself. I don’t want to passively sit and wait for some magnanimous, idealistic structural change that will address the inequalities found in digital spaces. I will take these issues head on, and this award is going to help me do it. And with the help of the global digital rights community and with this award, my little family at DRF hopes to make a change, not just for women but all vulnerable communities in Pakistan.

Here's to human rights. Here’s to Pakistan!

Thank you!"