Election fever: Senators want action against abusive social media posts

Senate panel told three girls found dead in Cholistan desert had been assaulted

Arsalan Altaf July 21, 2018

ISLAMABAD: With the apex poll body already cautioning candidates against using abusive language during campaigning, some senators on Friday asked the cybercrime authorities to probe the spread of fake, insulting and derogatory posts on social media against politicians ahead of the elections next month.

Moreover, senators were told that the three minor girls, who had gone missing in Bahawalnagar and their bodies found five days later in a stretch of desert, had been sexually assaulted.

During a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Interior on Friday, the chairman of the committee, Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Rehman Malik directed the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to expedite action against social media accounts insulting politicians ahead of the elections.

In Friday’s meeting, FIA officials told the panel that they were investigating complaints lodged by 10 politicians against some social media users, but they thus far they had nothing concrete in any of the cases to present before the committee.

With messenger service WhatsApp putting out advertisements in the local press this week advising on how to spot fake news forwarded through the service, Malik suggested talking to the social media companies to take measures against such culprits.

“I had to shut down social media websites in the past and was subjected to a lot of criticism for it, but we can do it again if needed, if these companies do not cooperate with the government in curbing illegal activities,” the former interior minister said pointing to the time when his government had banned YouTube and also placed curbs on Facebook and Twitter over blasphemous content.

Malik also sought a detailed report on the progress on these complaints on Monday.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) officials said that they were still relying on manual monitoring of social media accounts. They made the case of providing the authority with $20 million to install a system for the automatic monitoring of content.

Malik asked the PTA to move a summary for these funds and that he will take it up with the government. As a secondary funding measure, he directed the PTA to make telecom companies contribute funds to this end.

After the FIA representative complained of lack of cooperation by the PTA, Malik directed that a focal person from the FIA should be deputed at PTA and vice versa for prompt action against negative social media posts.

The FIA also said that some social media cells of some parties were also being operated from abroad.

Malik said the committee would visit the PTA offices after the elections to review its social media monitoring mechanism.

“We will make somebody post something inappropriate and will see how promptly the PTA responds to such post,” Malik told the PTA officials.

Senator Muhammad Ateeq Shaikh said some people were using the social media to sabotage the elections and spread anarchy and objectionable material about some political leaders was being posted but the FIA’s cyber crime wing was a silent spectator.

To the FIA’s demand, the committee almost recommended making offences under the prevention of electronic crimes act cognizable from the current status of non-cognizable but it was deferred after Senator Muhammad Javed Abbasi opposed it saying the law could be misused by the authorities against suspects.

Cholistan victims

Doctors from Bahawalnagar told the committee that the three minor girls, who were believed to have lost their way in the desert during a sandstorm and were found dead five days later, had been sexually assaulted.

The three girls — 10-year-old Tahira Bibi, six-year-old Allah Maafee, and 12-year-old Soraya Bibi — had reportedly gone missing in Fort Abbas on June 13 and their bodies were recovered five days later in the nearby Cholistan desert.

Initially, it was believed the girls had got caught in a sandstorm and ended up in the desert where they could not find their way out and died of dehydration and exhaustion.

The local administration declared it a ‘natural calamity’ and on their recommendation Rs2.5 million were paid to the victim families by the Punjab authorities.

However, the Senate panel took notice of the issue and summoned Bahawalnagar police officers and doctors to brief the committee.

On Friday, a lady doctor from Fort Abbas who had initially examined the three bodies told the committee that in her opinion all three girls were sexually assaulted as “virginity of all three was not intact”.

The doctor, assisted by two doctors from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), that said blisters and swelling were also detected on the bodies of the girls.

However, officers from the Punjab Forensic Science Agency told the committee that samples of vaginal swabs collected from the bodies of the girls were defective since they had not been preserved according to the standards and hence their tests were inconclusive.

SSP, SP and DSP as well as a sub-inspector investigating the case, also appeared before the committee. They, however, had no progress to report.

Malik commended lady doctor Azka from Fort Abbas for her job and suggested she should be recommended for the pride of performance award since she had revealed a hitherto unreported and critical aspect of the case.

The committee chairperson also directed the interior ministry to ensure security for the lady and her family.

“This is a heinous crime. This committee will take this case to a logical conclusion,” Malik said and summoned Punjab Home and Health secretaries and the inspector general at the next meeting while also summoning the then deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur and SP-investigation.

A sub-committee headed by Senator Rana Maqbool Ahmad has been formed to further probe the matter.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2018.


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