Legal first: Twitter feud turned defamation suit

Published: January 22, 2013

A file photo of Tahir Ashrafi. PHOTO: INP

KARACHI: A Twitter feud has turned into what could be a first for the legal and online community in Pakistan, after the head of the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC), Tahir Ashrafi, announced that he would be initiating legal proceedings against a blog for “inciting sectarian violence”, The Express Tribune has learned.

Ashrafi announced his intentions after the feud between him and the blog, Let Us Build Pakistan (LUBP), raged online. “LUBP supporters are worried that they have been exposed. We will now pursue them legally,” he said.

Accusations

Ashrafi accuses LUBP of spreading sectarian hatred and deepening fissures in society after the former published a blog on January 10, authored by Abdul Nishapuri, which sought to “expose” the cleric, his views on Shias, Sunnis, Ahmadis, Sunni Barelvis as well as his support for  Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) leader Malik Ishaq. They also ran a social media-based campaign urging television channels not to invite the cleric to offer his views, as well as for foreign countries to ban his entry.

“Given the blatant hate-speech … by him, we ask Pakistani media, activists, NGOs and foreign governments to ban Tahir Ashrafi from appearing in the media, speaking to sectarian harmony conferences, or visiting foreign countries.”

The blog went on to call Ashrafi a “bigoted Deobandi mullah” who “spews hate against Ahmadis, Shias, Sunni Barelvis 24/7,” and alleged that the cleric “played a key role in the murder of Pakistan’s Minority Affairs Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti”.

Subsequently, the PUC chief, who is active on Twitter, accused LUBP of being loyal to Iran, with directions to spread anarchy in Pakistan. “Irani[an] loyalists (LUBP) have been directed to spread lies to incite conflict in Pakistan,” he tweeted.

On January 13, Ashrafi tweeted a cartoon which depicted the LUBP as agents turning Shias against Sunnis and Sunnis against Shias.

A subsequent conversation between tweeter @ZainabBinte_Ali then descended into allegations and counter allegations over the cleric’s political views and allegiances and accusations of the LUBP being an arm of Iran.

Legal actions

Pakistan’s cybercrime ordinance expired in 2009. Since then, despite attempts by the government, a cybercrime bill has yet to clear the assemblies.

In the absence of specific laws, prosecution of cyber crimes is confusing.

Technology activist, lawyer and the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) executive director Nighat Dad told The Express Tribune that existing laws that cover hate speech, incitement to violence and slander also extend to websites, blogs, emails and social media, even though there are no specific laws to address them.

Given Ashrafi’s accusations that LUBP is trying to spread hatred, Dad says laws prescribed under sections 295-A, 295-C, 298, 298-A mentioned under the Pakistan penal code may be applicable. “If we talk about hate speech particularly against religion then we have anti-blasphemy provisions which can also apply to online spaces.”

Dad added that exceptions to Article 19 of the Constitution have also been used by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block obscene and objectionable content on the internet.

Given that the blog also attacks Ashrafi’s character and seeks to discredit his reputation, the cleric can also seek prosecution of LUBP for slander and libel. These two forms of defamation are included in the Defamation Ordinance of 2002.

Under the ordinance, Dad says, an aggrieved party can file a civil suit (not a criminal one) against the publisher of the content in which the action can be taken against the blogger, owner of the site and any organisation who owns the related website.

“However, no suit can be filed before sending a prior notice to the author of the content within two months after the publication of the defamatory matter has come to the applicant’s knowledge.”

Punitive measures for those found guilty under Section 9 of the ordinance include an order directing the defendant to tender an apology, if acceptable to the plaintiff, and publishing the apology in a similar manner and with the same prominence as the defamatory statement, as well as reasonable compensatory damages of a minimum of Rs50,000. Alternately, the defendant can serve a punishment of three months in jail.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2013. 

Reader Comments (17)

  • Rabael Malik
    Jan 22, 2013 - 10:56AM

    Atleast I am happy that they want to solve it legally otherwise we know how things work in our country. Anything legally perused is always appreciated. There is nothing wrong in taking the legal battle as long as it will remain non violent.Recommend

  • quranvshhadith
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:04AM

    truth is not hate speech

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  • Tabish Bilgrami
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:05AM

    Good.. Time to block twitter now :P :P

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  • Afzaal Khan
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:18AM

    Its just make me so happy, yeah an argument sue each other better then calling for violence I would take the route of suing each other then violence anytime.

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  • AYESHA
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:30AM

    if you are following Tahir ashrafi on tweeter , u would know what he really is. he is against everyone who does not belong to his sect

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  • Hafeez
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:30AM

    You could use Nighat instead of her last name Dad. Sounded weird

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  • Roni
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:35AM

    Just look at his picture. Does he look like a man who ever worked in his life? Without a doubt he is one of the worst hate mongers in Pakistan. He must be put away for peace.

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  • Ahad
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:36AM

    Good God, Does he travel in passenger seat or cargo?

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  • A J Khan
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:57AM

    LUBP is spreading extreme hatred between sects. It should rather balm the wounds to prove it self true to their name.

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  • Arsalan Ahmad
    Jan 22, 2013 - 11:58AM

    Nice! hoping to see these both guys on some current affair program

    Recommend

  • Kalim
    Jan 22, 2013 - 12:12PM

    Tahir Ashrafi who happens to be a proud friend of Malik Ishaq has the tendency to suppress disseting voices. The irony is that he’s dreaming to become a senator. Now if Malik Ishaq also becomes a National Assembly member, both of these notorious characters wil block every means of communication that they perceive as anti-SSP or anti-LEJ. If the said blog is banned today, it will also lead to blocking of Twitter and Facebook. Where are we headed then?

    Recommend

  • ahsan
    Jan 22, 2013 - 12:28PM

    maulana sahab is right

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  • XCriminal
    Jan 22, 2013 - 2:15PM

    Those who kill innocent in Quetta and Karachi based on sect are wandering freely [Mind it, killing based on sect is not sectarian violence] and one [LUBP] who exposes is should be taken to court.

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  • Farooq
    Jan 22, 2013 - 2:45PM

    Can any body guide me did Mr Ashrafi filed case against Television channels who reported that Mr Ashrafi was sick ( you know why if don’t then search on Google) ?

    Even if you don’t follow him just see his timeline on twitter and you will see that what sort of abusive language this so called preacher uses . I believe Twitter should ban Mullan Ashrafi

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  • habib-Jakarta
    Jan 22, 2013 - 3:00PM

    Well, bigotry is bigotry and persecution is persecution.
    The truth is revealing.

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  • Abid P. Khan
    Jan 22, 2013 - 3:28PM

    @Ahad:
    “Good God, Does he travel in passenger seat or cargo?”
    .
    A carrier can always find some space for His Enormousness in the cargo hold. That is not a problem but to make an extra stop for loading in more food, upsets the airline’s budget.

    Recommend

  • Jan 22, 2013 - 8:38PM

    “Dad says laws prescribed under sections 295-A, 295-C, 298, 298-A mentioned under the Pakistan penal code may be applicable. “If we talk about hate speech particularly against religion then we have anti-blasphemy provisions which can also apply to online spaces.”

    “Dad” is wrong. And I am sorry but this should have been researched better.The incitement of sectarian violence would be covered under numerous other provisions 506 PPC and 153-A PPC. In fact 295-A, 295-C, 298 and 298 A have no application.

    Furthermore, I am sure Ashrafi would be proceeding under the Defamation Ordinance.

    Also it must be stated that there have been other cases of defamation in the past emanating from Social Media… including a restraining order I procured against three persons 2012.

    Recommend

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