IHC orders removal of blasphemous content from social media

Published: March 9, 2017
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ISLAMABAD: An Islamabad High Court judge on Wednesday directed the authorities concerned to scrub off all blasphemous content from local social media accounts.

Hearing a petition which drew the court’s attention to blasphemous content on certain social media pages, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui ordered authorities to place the name of alleged blasphemers on the Exit Control List so that those involved in the “stinking and criminal activities may not escape from lawful proceedings.”

Justice Siddiqui also directed authorities to initiate criminal cases against those committing blasphemy and to form a joint investigation team (JIT) to look into the matter, adding that those “who do not fulfill the criteria under the law to be a Muslim should not be made a part of the whole process.”

Expressing shock at the objectionable material submitted in court, Justice Siddiqui held it up as an example of ‘secular and liberal extremism’, which he maintained was “far dangerous than religious extremism.”

“After perusal of material, officials find themselves in shock, agony and pain,” his order noted. The IHC judge added that “those who have been declared non-Muslims under the law are allegedly playing a role in generating and spreading blasphemous material on social media.”

Appearing before the judge, the interior secretary informed him that Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan could not appear in compliance with court orders because of surgery. However, he categorically assured Justice Siddiqui that “action shall be taken in accordance with law against the culprits involved in this malicious and disgusting campaign.” He assured the judge that the entire government machinery shall be put into motion to stop such activities.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority pointed eliminating all blasphemous material from roughly 1.4 billion pages on social media and the internet was an extremely difficult task. Even shutting down social media would not help, he said, as the websites and pages could still be reached by using proxies. He added that objectionable pages were being removed with the help of Facebook officials.

Justice Siddiqui, however, directed the PTA chairman to set up teams to monitor and scrutinise social media for blasphemous material so that it may be removed. He ordered the PTA chairman to submit a report on steps already taken and those which will be initiated in this regard. He also ordered the interior secretary to submit a progress report on March 9.

The petition, submitted by Salman Shahid through his counsel Tariq Asad, had moved the court to take notice of blasphemy being committed on certain social media pages. In particular, the petitioner accused the five bloggers who went missing for more around two weeks in January – Salman Haider, Ahmed Waqas Goraya, Asim Saeed, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Samar Abbas – of running the blasphemous pages.

Nisar orders strategy against ‘character assassination’

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Wednesday directed officials of his ministry to devise a comprehensive strategy to curb “character assassination through social media” within three days.

He directed the officials to evolve the strategy in consultation with PTA so that freedom of expression is ensured but no one is allowed to misuse.

A statement issued by the ministry said that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had presented a report to Nisar regarding the defaming of a high-level judicial personality through fake pictures on social media. The minister expressed his annoyance over the Facebook administration’s refusal to provide required information. The United States government was also contacted in that regard.

“It seems that social media is working under Freedom to Lie rather than freedom of expression,” he said. Nisar said it was regrettable that the Facebook administration and US officials were not realising the sensitivity of the matter.

The minister directed that the management of social media companies should be contacted to introduce a local version of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp and ensure that controversial material defaming any person is not circulated. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM APP)

Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2017.

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