The Lahore High Court Chief Justice (CJ) Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry on Friday directed the Inter-Ministerial Committee to control the dissemination of objectionable material on the social networking website, Facebook, and other websites against any religious faith. In case of failure, he warned, the concerned persons would be taken to task.
The CJ issued the order while disposing of several petitions seeking a ban on the website for allegedly hosting a Draw Muhammad (pbuh) Day.
The CJ said that an Inter-Ministerial Committee formed in 2006 by the then prime minister would keep a vigilant eye on the websites and if any objectionable material concerning the religious faith of any group was discovered would take prompt action.
In case of failure, the authorities concerned will be taken to task by initiating disciplinary action against them, the CJ said.
The chief justice observed, “ I am bewildered that in this era of civilisation and modernity, attempts to hurt the religious feelings of the followers of a religion especially the Muslims are not only rampant but have increased manifold.”
The CJ said that the lethargic attitude of government officials towards such material raises a number of questions about their commitment to their duties.
He said: “The Inter-Ministerial Committee and a crisis cell have been established to control such acts but neither has moved to take any step towards blocking such blasphemous material against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) until an order was passed by this court.”
Speaking about Facebook, the CJ mentioned in his order, “China has also imposed a complete ban on the said website. ... Why has the Pakistan government been so hesitant in this regard? The government shall strive for legislation in this regard along the lines already adopted by other Islamic countries in addition to China.”
If such blasphemous acts were committed again the government would sue the concerned authorities at the appropriate forums, he said.
With these observations and directions, the CJ disposed of writ petitions filed by Islamic Lawyers Forum, the Judicial Activism Panel and others.
It is pertinent to mention here that the LHC had banned access to Facebook in the country on May 19, 2010, and lifted it on May 31, 2010.
In the beginning of the 12-page judgment, the CJ said, “The factual canvas on the basis of which the present petitions have been filed is that a proscribed website known as Facebook on the pretext of protest against efforts to limit freedom of speech, in fact with a view to lower the stature, dignity, honour and respect enjoyed by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) not only amongst his followers but amongst the non-followers as well, launched a competition “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”.
According to the said unholy, unscrupulous and so-called competition, on May 20, 2010, the users of the said … website were invited to draw drawing/cartoons/shapes representing the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In addition thereto, caricatures/cartoons depicting the personality of Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were posted on the internet on April 20, 2010.”
Meanwhile, Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed in a new petition against Facebook summoned a deputy attorney general on May 18 for assistance after the judgment and restraining orders passed by the CJ on February 28, 2011.
Facebook did not host the ‘competition.’ In fact, one of its users hosted it. Facebook did offer to block the offending page from its users in Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2011.