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.
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.