A case of vigilante [in]justice

Published: September 6, 2015
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The story of how one harmless tag on Facebook almost destroyed a boy’s life. DESIGN: EESHA AZAM

The story of how one harmless tag on Facebook almost destroyed a boy’s life. DESIGN: EESHA AZAM

KARACHI: 

This story is about a medical student who was made victim to social persecution for a sin he never committed.

Around two weeks ago, a video of some reckless youngsters went viral on social media. It was filmed amid the festivities of Independence Day. One of the young men in the video sat behind a burqa-clad woman on a passing motorcycle and acted indecently.

When Kashif*, the victim’s friend logged onto his Facebook account, he found the video link that had been doing the rounds of the social media circuit. He pressed play. Though perturbed by the content, it tickled his funny bone and he, unaware of the repercussions, tagged his friend, Noman*, observing how the devilish character resembled him.

Read: Two arrested for blackmailing girls online

Shortly after, Noman’s world turned upside down. He quickly became a notorious figure in the world of social media. His Facebook profile was flooded with over 500 threatening messages, condemning him for the shameful act.

A storm brewing

As the two friends went back to studying for their final exams, they had no idea of the storm brewing up on social media. They did find out about it but in a more sinister way. A day after he tagged his friend in the video, Kashif was studying in the library when he started receiving calls from unknown numbers. Not wishing to break his reading momentum, he chose not to attend them. However, he had to when the number on the screen was that of his gatekeeper.

Law enforcers in action

A special unit of the Pakistan Rangers was waiting for him at his residence. Leaving the books behind, he rushed back home. The paramilitary force was looking for the devilish character in the video. Since he had tagged his friend, Noman, for his lookalike, the investigators wanted to see him too.

They asked Kashif to call Noman and tell him to come there. Both were taken into custody, driven to somewhere that Kashif describes as a large office. Since both the boys cooperated fully, there was no complaint of maltreatment.

A long interrogation was conducted with both of them, separately. They were harsher with Noman – the key suspect and victim at the same time. His cellphone, laptop records, conversations and data were checked and when the investigators could find no clue, they were allowed to leave.

Though Noman was exonerated by the investigators, the internet society was not so ready to forgive him. His profile and photos were circulated on social media websites. The news of his arrest made headlines such as ‘Shetan Pakra Gaya… [Devil Caught…]’ and also rendered a hashtag #waqarzakavideoworks.

Living On The Edge-fame TV host Waqar Zaka was the first one to share the video on his fan page, urging people to identify the perpetrators in the video. He had also announced a bounty of Rs50,000 for the culprits.

Scarred for life

The social persecution was still on rampage. Abuses, death threats and obscene messages for his family were in Noman’s inbox. He feared for his life and, eventually, deactivated his profile. “This was a social injustice that, perhaps, he will never forget,” described his friend Kashif, while speaking to The Express Tribune.

Kashif explained that Noman received more than 500 death threats on his Facebook. With guilt echoing in his voice, Kashif lamented that he did not know that his seemingly harmless tag will have these repercussions for his friend. The persecution saga started at a time when Noman was busy with exams.

“His studies were heavily disturbed as his mind clung to the messages and the post that unofficial pages of some top media personalities shared against him,” added Kashif.

Another mutual friend, Amir*, who remained with the two boys during these times of crisis, said that they still fear of dire consequences as Noman was still not cleared of the charges in the eyes of the people.

“Neither are the social media gurus, websites who campaigned against Noman, tendering an apology nor are they posting the story with the corrected facts.” He added that even the investigators who picked him up from his residence and briefly detained him for questioning did not issue a written statement about his non-involvement in the case.

During the course of the social media trial, Noman was also asked by his university to not appear for the exams – a message that shook his world for a brief time, Amir added, saying that this was the result of embracing rumours as corrected and divine facts in our society. However, the university matter resolved soon and Noman was allowed to take the exam.

The investigators may still be probing the case but there is no official word on it for now. The Express Tribune contacted the spokesperson of the paramilitary force but he seemed unaware of the story.

*Names changed to protect identity

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2015.

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Reader Comments (19)

  • noname
    Sep 6, 2015 - 9:14AM

    doesn’t matter, he can make his own video and post it to all..Recommend

  • ak
    Sep 6, 2015 - 11:42AM

    A video of abuse tickled your funny bone and you are the victim in this, maybe this will teach you abuse is not funnyRecommend

  • amyn
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:05PM

    Truly a sad story! Yet I must say that the lesson to be learned here is that people need to be extremely careful with what they share or post on social media!

    The youth use the internet irresponsibly and do not think of future consequences. Leaving digital footprints behind is something that I have seen which has destroyed careers and lives because employers, security agencies and other people who ran background checks had proof in some form a video or picture that depicted the character portrayed on a resume to be totally a work of fiction! (I refer to Junaid Jamshed scandals) – the same has gone where rishtas and marriages are concerned where ones spousal integrity may be questioned!

    Further to that people should be told to be careful about how to post what and what to share as they openly allow the world to see what they might not want to show!

    I wish as a publication you would highlight this matter in a more positive manner than portraying an irresponsible teenage boy as a victim! Recommend

  • Karachite
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:34PM

    Most facts are correct Recommend

  • Ali
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:42PM

    Tabbasum Mughal (Designer) deactivated her Twitter, Whatsapp Phone Numbers. News circulated on Social Network that she and her family had beaten up a couple of customers (Mother & Daughter). The amount of Hate she received in a day was more then the orders she received in her lifetime.Recommend

  • Sep 6, 2015 - 12:53PM

    وقار زکا کے یہ ڑرامےپچھلے کئی سالوں سے جاری ہیں۔ مجھے یہ سمجھ نہیں آتا کہ لوگ اس کی احمقانہ باتوں پر عمل کا اظہار کیوںکرتے ہیں۔ ہمیشہ بے وقوفانہ باتیں۔ سوشل میڈیا پہ افوائیں پھیلاکر نجانے وہ اسلام اور پاکستان کی کونسی خدمت کر رہاہے۔
    اور ہمارے نوجوانوں کا ردعمل بھی بے وقوفانہ ہوتا ہے۔ بغیر تصدیق کئے خبر کو پھیلاتے ہیں۔Recommend

  • murtaza
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:54PM

    @ak:
    did you even read the article ?Recommend

  • Sarwar
    Sep 6, 2015 - 12:59PM

    Someone please enlighten me as to how the social media can abuse a person? I am so scared of it that I do not have any account on any social medial cite. Is there a way to have a social media account but not be subjected to abuse? Kindly inform. Thanks.
    (BTW, I am very poor at doing settings. I tried a popular social media cite but could not properly set my privacy settings. So, I deactivated the account.)Recommend

  • Sarwar
    Sep 6, 2015 - 1:07PM

    Is it true that someone in Mumbai posted an anti-Modi message on the Facebook, which led to his arrest? So, how safe is it to exercise freedom of speech on the social media? Recommend

  • daniyal
    Sep 6, 2015 - 5:33PM

    @ak:
    the victim didnt find it funny, his friend did. Arrogant idiots like u make it hard for ppl to live.Recommend

  • Ali S
    Sep 6, 2015 - 10:31PM

    @Ali:

    I don’t know the two lads in this case, but for Tabassum Mughal I’m sure she deserved everything she got (and then some)Recommend

  • Samar Javed
    Sep 7, 2015 - 12:51AM

    Did the actual culprit get caught so far?Recommend

  • Nim
    Sep 7, 2015 - 6:05AM

    From what i remember in one of the susequent videos posted by Waqar Zaka he actually requested that please do not post pics of anyone because you can put their life in danger. This was when he was announcing that sindh police had the perpetrator in custody. God help these new age do-gooders!Recommend

  • goldconsumer
    Sep 7, 2015 - 7:08AM

    One day this social media will bite Waqar Zaka in the wrong place too. But we are a forgiving nation as told by Aamir Liaqat while enjoying a laugh at some talk showRecommend

  • Sarwar
    Sep 7, 2015 - 9:46AM

    I am still waiting for someone to provide guidance to me as I have requested in one of my earlier posts. Kindly help.Recommend

  • Ali
    Sep 7, 2015 - 1:27PM

    @Sarwar . Just make an ID on twitter or Facebook. Add only those people whov you know and are your friends in real life as friends. Avoid unknown chats. Follow and like only famous and good pages. When sharing set privacy to friends . not public . and follow these instructionsm.wikihow.com/Secure-Your-Facebook-AccountRecommend

  • mahesh
    Sep 7, 2015 - 2:26PM

    @sarwar. He was Mumbai guy and posted offensive statements on social media in Goa. One guy from Bangalore and few guys from Kerala have also been arrested with similar charges. Posting offensive comments is a offence under 66-A. So proper police cases have been filed and people booked.
    Goa guy is not a Muslim.
    This section was added by pro-Muslim UPA government.
    You have freedom of speech, but offending someone or using speech to start rumors or create confusion or false propaganda and lead to prosecution. You can show how bad Modi is, is you have facts, but you can’t morph his photo with a dead body and start hate speech.
    Section 66-A:
    “Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,
    (a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character;
    (b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
    (c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.”
    Need more info?Recommend

  • inam
    Sep 7, 2015 - 4:58PM

    sad!!! being a feminist look at the brighter side, the support the woman is receiving. although they targeted the wrong person but it gives me hope that women are respected by the youth, as evident from the death threats he received (though it’s wrong to kill someone). Good to see respect for woman…
    PS: NO VIOLENCE, THE REAL CULPRIT SHOULD TREATED ACCORDING TO LAW AND BY LAW, NOT BY PEOPLERecommend

  • Sarwar
    Sep 7, 2015 - 6:22PM

    @ Mahesh Thanks. But I was trying to remember perhaps a different case, perhaps wherein someone had just said something to the effect which probably meant that Modi was no historically exceptional person. But still he was appreheded. Recommend

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