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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

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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Should Live Broadcast on Social Media Platforms be Banned?

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India

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Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. Pixabay

Would you want your teenager to watch terrorists killing people in the real world or someone committing suicide? No one, in their right mind, would ever want their kids to get exposed to such events, simply for the repercussions that such content can have on young impressionable minds.

But with a smartphone on their hand and Facebook installed in it, chances of them watching such horrific content some day cannot be denied, especially because the social media giant allows all its users to go live.

The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook.

Facebook said the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast, but it was watched about 4,000 times before being removed from the platform. By that time, copies of the 17-minute video were later shared in millions on other social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube.

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The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook. Pixabay

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. So does that mean that live broadcast on social media platforms should be banned?

“What happened in New Zealand was one-of-a-kind heinous exhibition of brutality and terror. I don’t think the world has become so bad that we should see such things occurring repetitively,” Faisal Kawoosa, Chief Analyst at market research firm techARC, told IANS.

“Live streaming is an essential part of social media platforms and as video becomes the default mode of communication over digital platforms, live streaming empowers users to be real time on these platforms,” he added.

Youngsters also find the facility, which is also available on YouTube and Instagram, useful for broadcasting their travelling adventures and tutorials.

“The ‘live’ feature on social networking platforms could be good for people who want to publicise stuff like their travel, fashion or subject tutorials,” said 25-year-old Rijul Rajpal who works with a film production company.

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The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. Pixabay

Many even find it helpful for connecting with their favourite film stars and music icons. But despite the usefulness of the feature, one cannot deny the potential of misuse of the feature, especially because the social media companies have still not developed a technology that can prevent the broadcast of live shooting.

Facebook said that its Artificial Intelligence (AI) system could not automatically detect the New Zealand shooting video as the system was not properly trained. It promised to improve its technology so that broadcast of such videos can be prevented in the future.

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But policy makers are not impressed. In the US, tech firms have already been asked to brief the Congress on March 27 regarding their response to dissemination of the video of the New Zealand terrorists attack on their platforms.

The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. (IANS)