BANGKOK: In today’s world, personal security of individuals and communities on internet intersects with the politics of the states and is hampered by the notion of national security defined by the states inhibiting people’s rights and personal safety, said Professor David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, during his opening address to the assembly of human rights defenders from across South and Southeast Asia. Human rights defenders and organisations from around 18 Asian countries including China, Maldives, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Mongolia are attending the four-day moot organised by the Thailand-based Forum Asia, UK-based Global Partners Digital, Philippines-based Association of Progressive Communications and Pakistan-based Bytes for All. Addressing the opening session, Prof Kaye said that the online violent behaviour was rapidly getting transformed into offline physical violence in many countries. He said that in modern age, freedom of expression and opinion could not be seen in isolation, and that many other factors intersect people’s freedom to express their opinion. In addition to their religious beliefs, their identities, their geography, their human rights contexts and their gender have interplays with their right to opinion and expression. In digital age, he said, the blurring lines between the public and private space also intersect with people’s freedom of expression. In many countries, for example, expressing certain opinions and exercising certain religions is either criminalised or is disenfranchised. Just like those rules are imposing upon us in our offline real lives, the violence also moves from virtual to physical space, he added. He reminded that before the digital age, people would talk about local and national issues relatively constrained in their place and time. But today, because of the nature of internet, “we see increasing intersection between local and global. What might be happening in one country is accessible to the globally, which brings in the state’s consideration of national security that is often put above people’s personal security because of which, the local, national, regional and international are increasingly colliding.” This, he emphasised, must be tackled by making the states more responsible towards people’s rights and incorporating the personal safety of individuals and communities within the ambit of national security. “This is why protecting people’s identity and privacy without being subject to threats from different actors including governments and state and non-state actors must be ensured.” But, he warned, ensuring personal safety online must not be done in a way that allows states to follow censorship regimes where governments and companies decide “what we can see and what we can say.” Having a broader discussion on security inclusive of individual safety that is not limited to national security and public order, he admitted, was difficult in an age of counter-terrorism, counter-radicalisation and much more complex task of maintaining public order that it was couple of decades earlier. Talking to Daily Times exclusively, the UN special rapporteur said that he was very interested in the developments on freedom of expression and religion in Pakistan and wanted to visit the country for getting a more comprehensive view of the situation. He said that it was a part of the work of the special rapporteurs to conduct visits to countries and investigate conditions within the scope of their mandates. “Last year, for instance, I visited Turkey, Japan and Tajikistan and reported on the situations faced by journalists, activists, those expressing themselves online, and so forth.” It is noteworthy that the UN’s special rapporteurs on right to freedom of opinion and expression have been requesting Pakistan to allow an observation visit since last many years but successive governments have not been responding to these requests positively. Prof Kaye was appointed as special rapporteur in 2014 and has also made request for a visit to Pakistan. “I requested an invitation to visit Pakistan in 2015 and hope that I will be able to visit during the time I hold this mandate.” In the South Asian region, the special rapporteur has been able to visit only Maldives so far. Afghanistan made an invitation to him in August 2017, while India made similar invitation in 2011 during the tenure of Congress-led UPA government. Since 2014, when Prof Kaye took over as the special rapporteur and a regime change in India occurred, India has not been open to observation missions. Published in Daily Times, October 6th 2017.