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Pakistan “Cracks” down on Social Media, Government takes stern actions

The current crackdown has revived memories of the disappearances this year of at least five bloggers

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Pakistani youth is protesting against government. Wikimedia
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Islamabad, May 26, 2017: Taha Siddiqui was relaxing in his living room with his son after work when he received a telephone call. On the other end of the line was a man claiming to be with the counterterrorism department of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. The man, who Siddiqui said identified himself as Nadeem Bodla, a deputy director of the counterterrorism wing in the FIA, told Siddiqui to “drop everything” and immediately report to his office.

“It wasn’t a courteous call,” Siddiqui recalled. “It was actually a call where he was talking from a point of authority. The tone was intimidating.”

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As a freelance journalist working with several international outlets, Siddiqui had been covering military affairs.

His work had drawn attention in the past. Journalists who did not know him would sometimes call and urge him to rethink what he was filing, telling him authorities thought he was overstepping a boundary.

This was the first time, though, that a government entity had officially approached him. The move concerned Siddiqui, who feared an arrest over “illegal charges” or the seizure of his equipment that could compromise his work and sources.

Others questioned, too

Others, namely political activists and opposition figures, had been called in for questioning based solely on their social media activity.

FILE - Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws, in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media.
FILE – Pakistani students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws, in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 8, 2017. Hundreds of students rallied in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, urging government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media. VOA

One of them, Salar Sultanzai, tweeted from his handle @MeFixer that the FIA had told him to submit his cellphone and laptop for inspection.

Siddiqui decided to file a petition of harassment in the Islamabad High Court.

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Interior Minister Ali Khan, in a news conference this week, maintained that the steps taken by the FIA were legal. The constitution, Khan said, barred anyone from demeaning the country’s armed forces, its judiciary or its national religion, Islam.

“I assure you no one is putting any restrictions on social media,” Khan said, “but a free-for-all social media is also unacceptable for a democracy.”

He also said that only 27 social media identities and eight individuals had been identified for questioning and that no one had been arrested or harassed.

Party activists feel targeted

Opposition leader Imran Khan, whose PTI party held protests across the country this week, disagreed. He said the government was using excuses to crack down against activists from his party. Others from the party concurred.

“This is all political,” said Faisal Javed Khan of PTI. “It’s political victimization. They’re picking our guys because they have been highlighting [Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif’s corruption.”

Another PTI activist, Shahzad Waseem, said the crackdown went against the norms of freedom of expression. “Unfortunately, the government in Pakistan is trying to curb the voice of civil society of Pakistan,” he added.

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The current crackdown has revived memories of the disappearances this year of at least five bloggers. Many in the country blamed the intelligence agency ISI for picking them up for having criticized the military in their social media posts.

A countrywide uproar led to their return, but they were afraid to speak up about what happened. Most of them and their families reportedly left the country soon afterward. At least one of them told the BBC he had been tortured for pleasure by a government institution linked to the military.

Rules for social media use

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Khan directed the relevant government departments to formulate a framework “which ensures that social media is used as a medium to facilitate positive, constructive and healthy interactions … and not as a tool to propagate false information, pass defamatory comments, ridicule or humiliate sacred personalities, national institutions or jeopardizing social, religious and cultural values of any community.”

He has also requested that the national assembly speaker reach out to all political parties over this issue.

Meanwhile, Siddiqui is waiting for his hearing next week to find out why he was approached over his journalistic work. (VOA)

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Gap Apologised For Wrong China Map on its T-Shirt

Several other companies had issued similar apologies earlier this year after information on their websites appeared to conflict with China's territorial claims.

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US clothing brand Gap has apologised for selling T-shirts which it said showed an
Gap apologises for wrong Chinese map on its T-Shirts. Pixabay

US clothing brand Gap has apologised for selling T-shirts which it said showed an “incorrect map” of China.

The apology came after one person posted pictures of the T-shirt on Chinese social media network Weibo saying that Chinese-claimed territories, including “Southern Tibet” — a huge swathe of territory it claims in the northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, the island of Taiwan and the South China Sea were not shown on it, the BBC reported.

The post on Monday, which said that the T-shirt was being sold in Canada, drew the ire of Chinese netizens. In a statement, Gap said it “sincerely apologised for this unintentional error” and had pulled the T-shirts from the Chinese market and destroyed them.

“Gap Inc. respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We’ve learned that a Gap brand T-shirt sold in some overseas markets failed to reflect the correct map of China in the design,” the company said.

The company didn’t say whether the product would be withdrawn from sale in other markets.

US clothing brand Gap has apologised for selling T-shirts which it said showed an "incorrect map" of China.
Accurate Map of China, Pixabay

Several other companies had issued similar apologies earlier this year after information on their websites appeared to conflict with China’s territorial claims.

In January, Marriott International apologised to China after sending a letter to rewards club members that listed Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as options on a question asking customers their countries of residence.

Fashion brand Zara and Delta Air Lines drew Beijing’s ire and apologised for listing Taiwan and/or Tibet as countries on drop-down menus on their websites.

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In 2017, German carmaker Audi was in hot water for omitting Taiwan and parts of western China on a map used at their annual meeting, while Mercedes-Benz apologised in February for quoting the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, on Instagram.

The White House had earlier described China’s claims as “Orwellian nonsense” and sharply criticised Beijing for trying to impose its “political correctness on American companies and their citizens”. (IANS)