Social Media Could be Blocked in Pakistan

Interior Minister of Pakistan Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan warned the administration of social networking sites to take off blasphemous content, or their access will permanently be blocked in Pakistan.

The Islamabad High Court ordered the government to block access to the blasphemous content on the social media.

Nisar’s warning came a day after he showed its utter annoyance at the refusal of the Facebook administration to share details of those persons who allegedly were running a malicious campaign against the superior judiciary through the social networking site.

As Pakistani authorities are seeking access to the people they consider miscreants, anti-social or even traitors and some kind of control over the content, the social networking sites keep pursuing the policy of protecting the identity of its users and allowing all kinds of material in the name of freedom of expression.

Given the government’s inability to effectively filter out internet material on its own, Pakistanis had to face a Youtube ban for around a couple of years after the video uploading site refused to remove some blasphemous content from its platform.

Now that the sensitive dimension of blasphemy has been added to the Facebook situation too, it seems the Pakistanis citizens are soon going to lose access to the world famous networking site. The government could even go the extent of partially or fully blocking Twitter from the country as well.

A spokesperson of the interior ministry said Wednesday the Facebook management refused sharing details of the persons behind this campaign citing right to freedom of expression. “Even the US government was contacted in this connection but to no avail,” the spokesperson added.

This came after the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) presented its report about the uploading of a photograph having misleading caption on the social media sites, including the Facebook.

The caption mentioned that Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar was sitting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a friendly mood showing the CJP already enjoyed good relations with the ruling family. Actually, the person sitting with the PM was Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra.

Now the IHC order regarding banning the blasphemous material has apparently come as an opportunity for the government, which has long been seeking some control on the social media but has so far utterly failed in getting any favours from the social networking giants.

Chairing a meeting at the interior ministry on Thursday, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan said the government would leave no stone unturned to block the blasphemous material on certain social networking sites.

“We can go to the extent of permanently blocking all such social media websites which would refuse to cooperate with us in blocking the blasphemous content.”

He said that no blasphemous material would be allowed to be propagated through social media that hurts religious sentiments of the people.

“It is not the issue of Muslims living in Pakistan alone but the sentiments of the entire Ummah are hurt by such madness and Muslims all across the world have serious concerns over the failure of social media operators to block such blasphemous content,”

Nisar said, according to a statement issued by the interior ministry.

The minister said that blasphemy and terrorism were two major sensitivities and the state would not compromise on these issues. He observed that the international community must realise that hurting any religion through any channel is intolerable.

Nisar directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman to engage various foreign companies operating social media sites to convey serious reservations and concerns of the government.

“In this way, a permanent solution for blocking of such material on websites, Facebook pages etc could be found out and simultaneously ensure that such content is not uploaded with any proxy,”

he said.

He asked the PTA chairman to convey to the social media operators in no uncertain terms that the government of Pakistan would be forced to block all such websites which would refuse to cooperate in this regard.

Earlier, PTA Chairman Ismail Shah told the IHC that it was difficult to block the blasphemous material on the internet as the process requires to examine as many as 1.4 billion pages. He also said that the issue would not be solved through blocking of certain social media sites as their pages could be opened through the use of proxies. “Such objectionable pages were being removed with the help of the Facebook administration,” he had said.

The PTA chairman, secretary interior, advocate general and senior officials of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) attended the meeting.

Nisar said that there was a need to develop local solutions and software for detection of such material on the internet. He said that efforts must be made for putting in place a robust mechanism for deterrence as well as timely action against such web pages.

The minister particularly mentioned the refusal of Facebook to provide details of those persons who ran a fake campaign against the superior judiciary on the social media. He said that no country could allow its religious sentiments being blatantly hurt and it’s important Sate functionaries were subjected to ridicule under the pretext of freedom of expression.

“Why there are two different sets of rules governing the Holocaust and the Prophet of Islam (PBUH)?” the minister questioned.

On the other hand, a single bench of IHC comprising Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui directed the interior secretary to avail services of intelligence as well as law enforcing agencies in blocking the blasphemous content on social media and punishing the culprits.

He was hearing a contempt of court petition for not complying with the court orders about blockage of pages or websites containing blasphemous material on social media.

The interior secretary assured the court that he will personally supervise the entire process, including action against culprits involved in posting blasphemous material on social media, blocking pages containing the contents and measures to be adopted to stop this ugly campaign permanently.

He informed the court that they had a meeting last day and decided to lodge an FIR against the blasphemers while Chairman Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) told that four pages containing blasphemous material have been blocked.

Justice Siddiqui observed that why this matter was not brought into the knowledge of the Prime Minister of Pakistan and noted in his order, “Due to sensitivity and delicacy of the matter, Chief Executive of the country was supposed to be aware of this issue, but it appears that this content has not been brought into his notice, making the worthy Prime Minister understand that the entire nation is sleepless and due to inaction of executive, finding itself helpless.”

He directed that the Information Technology secretary shall call a meeting in which high officials from PTCL, Transworld and Khawaja Saad Saleem from private sector and Iftikhar Ahmed Bashir advocate, being a legal expert, may be invited for working out the strategy.

The interior secretary may avail services of intelligence and law enforcing agencies of Pakistan, as patience of entire nation is running out, which may result into serious law and order situation.

FIA NR3C Project Director Dr Shafiqur Rehman submitted a progress report before the court.

During the proceedings, Secretary Ministry of Interior Arif Ahmad Khan, Advocate General for Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Mian Abdul Rauf, Additional Attorney General Afnan Karim Kundi, Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Arshad Mehmood Kiani, Legal Counsel for Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Barrister Munawar Iqbal Duggal, Secretary Ministry of Information Technology Rizwan Bashir Khan, Chairman PTA Dr Syed Ismail Shah, Secretary Ministry of Information Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, Inspector General (IG) ICT Tariq Masood Yasin, SSP Operations Sajid Mehmood Kiani and Deputy Director Cyber Crime Circle FIA Nauman Ashraf Bodla were present in the court.

After issuing the aforementioned directions, Justice Siddiqui deferred the hearing in this matter until March 13.

On February 27, the same IHC bench had directed the PTA to block pages or websites containing blasphemous material on social media.

In the main petition, petitioner Salman Shahid was seeking blockage of blasphemous pages on social media and directions for the government to initiate legal proceedings against the page administrators.

In his main as well as contempt of court applications, Salman Shahid cited Arif Ahmad khan, Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Azmat Ali Ranjha, Secretary, Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication, Muhammad Amlish, Director General, Federal Investigation Agency, Dr Syed Ismaeel Shah, Chairman, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Tariq Sultan, Member Finance/ Acting Chairman (PTA) Pakistan Telecommunication as respondents.

The petitioner through his counsel Tariq Asad Advocate had adopted that the sacrilegious pages and videos have not been stopped /blocked by the respondents, nor any steps have been taken. As a result, the culprits have been encouraged and they have fearlessly opened more pages with different names.

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