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Pakistan’s Social Media Crackdown to deter anti-military content led to curbing freedom of Expression and Victimizing Political Activists

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government last Sunday ordered the cybercrime department of the Federal Investigation Agency to proceed against activists "dishonoring" the national armed forces through social media.

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A man explores social media on a computer at an internet club in Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug. 11, 2016. source-VOA
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Islamabad, Pakistan, May 20, 2017:– A Pakistani government crackdown on social media to deter anti-military content has prompted accusations of curbing freedom of expression and victimizing political activists.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government last Sunday ordered the cybercrime department of the Federal Investigation Agency to proceed against activists “dishonoring” the national armed forces through social media.

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Authorities have since detained and interrogated an unspecified number of activists and seized their computers and cellphones. Most of the detainees belong to the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) party, headed by Imran Khan.

An independent watchdog group, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), has harshly criticized the crackdown. In a statement Friday, it demanded an end to “arbitrary curbs” on freedom of expression and a “climate of intimidation” of political activists, bloggers, journalists and other civil society activists.

FILE - The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan presents the 2016 annual human rights report, in Islamabad, Pakistan, May 10, 2017. The report offered a mixed report card in its annual look at the state of human rights in Pakistan.
FILE – The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan presents the 2016 annual human rights report, in Islamabad, Pakistan, May 10, 2017. The report offered a mixed report card in its annual look at the state of human rights in Pakistan, VOA

‘Hostility’ toward free speech

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“We hope the authorities realize how the prevailing situation demonstrates their hostility towards freedom of expression,” the HRCP said.

Khan has also accused the government of abusing the cybercrime law to “politically victimize” PTI’s social media activists. The opposition politician has been organizing street protests to pressure Sharif to resign, accusing him of corruption.

“Do not force PTI to come out on to the streets. We will never let you muzzle public dissent against you,” Khan warned the Sharif government while addressing a party rally in the southwestern city of Quetta on Friday.

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He alleged that the ruling party through fake accounts had unleashed an anti-army campaign in order to provoke the crackdown on social media activists of PTI. Khan’s party has been good at using social media to mobilize public support and highlight alleged corruption cases against government leaders.

The Sharif government has defended the punitive proceedings against social media activists, saying the constitution does not allow citizens to criticize the national armed forces.

FILE - Pakistan army soldiers gather at a forward area post on the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India, in Tatta Pani, 200 kilometers from Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 1, 2016.
FILE – Pakistan army soldiers gather at a forward area post on the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India, in Tatta Pani, 200 kilometers from Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 1, 2016. VOA

‘Serious offense’

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“Ridiculing the Pakistan army or its officers on social media in the name of freedom of speech is unacceptable” and “a serious offense” under the law, the federal interior minister warned while ordering authorities to arrest and take “severe” action against those involved in such “condemnable” activities.

In its statement, HRCP dismissed those assertions and reminded authorities that the constitution also says any restriction with regard to freedom of speech “must be reasonable and shall not take effect if provided by law.”

The powerful military has ruled Pakistan at three different times, for a total of more than three decades, through direct coups against civilian governments. Critics say it continues to influence political affairs, particularly foreign policy.

The military, particularly its spy agency, also has long faced foreign criticism for allegedly harboring militants involved in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan and India.

Analysts say that despite the controversies surrounding the military, the institution has benefited from constitutional provisions that curtail criticism of it. (VOA)

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American Friends of Balochistan welcomes Trump’s Tough stand on Pak

The American Friends of Balochistan (AFB) issued a statement Monday welcoming Donald Trump's stand on US-Pakistan relations, calling it a vindication of its own stand.

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Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons
Donald Trump is famous for his rude comments towards brown people. wikimedia commons

Washington, D.C.– The American Friends of Balochistan (AFB) Executive Committee issued a statement Monday welcoming the President’s stand on US-Pakistan relations, calling it a vindication of its own stand.

The AFB said President Donald J. Trump has called out Pakistan’s constant bluffs with the US and pointed out a big chunk of American assistance was used against people of Balochistan in a secret, dirty war instead of the Taliban.

Khwaja Wali Kirani in Balochistan. Wikimedia Commons

“The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!,” President Trump first tweet of 2018 reads.

The tweet was loved by nearly quarter-million Americans and retweeted 83,000 times in less than 24 hours.

The AFB executive committee said the US remains Pakistan’s top foreign aid donor, in addition to the money paid in expectation of cooperation in the Global War on Terror. Yet, for many years now, serving officers in the US Armed Forces have repeatedly spoken out about Pakistan’s perfidy in Afghanistan, which has cost the US lives, money and strategic credibility in the world’s eyes. Pakistan also remains a training ground for terrorism and a prime proliferator of nuclear weapons technology.

No country’s development and democracy have suffered more from Pakistan’s interference via state-sponsored terrorism than Afghanistan. US efforts to help the Afghans rebuild their nation are constantly sabotaged by reeling instability. India is another well-known target.

The AFB said Balochistan is a region rich in natural gas. It that has seen several bloody cycles of insurgency ever since Pakistan forcibly annexed the autonomous Baloch state of Kalat in 1948 in violation of a Standstill Agreement. A portion of historical Balochistan also sits on the other side of Pakistan’s border with Iran. Further, it borders Afghanistan to the north-west. Pakistan’s brutal record in this strategically located province that forms the northern lip of the key Straits of Hormuz has spiked in recent years.

“People of Balochistan tried their very best to work with Pakistan’s false promises of integration after forceful accession, but instead gave genocide to Balochs,” said the statement.

The AFB monitors the situation in Balochistan closely and is in touch with freedom and democracy activists on the ground. The AFB reiterated their call to the Pakistani government to cease violating the physical security of Baloch people, their freedom of expression, and end the policy of economic exploitation and genocidal violence.

A slow-motion genocide in Balochistan has claimed the lives of 35,000 Baloch people, 6,000 of whom were buried in mass graves while 21,000 are Victims of Enforced Disappearances, according to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons. “The enforced disappearances situation in Balochistan is no different than what it used to be in Chile and Argentine in the 1970s and 1980s,” the AFB executive committee noted.

The AFB executive committee chimed in with similar sentiments expressed by policy experts in academe, veteran politicians, diplomats, intelligence chiefs, and human rights activists. Among them were former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, leading South Asia expert and former Pakistani ambassador Hussain Haqqani, several Baloch freedom and human rights activists cutting across party lines, former head of Afghanistan’s Directorate of Security Amrullah Saleh, and even normally fierce critics of President Trump’s administration such as Prof. Christine Fair, Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service.

The AFB executive committee consists of Jane Eastwood Weisner, Najeeb Khan, Krishna Gudipati, Soumya Chowdhury and Habiba Ashna. The organization was founded by veteran Baloch journalist Ahmar Mustikhan, who is the president.

Hope and doubt have been expressed on whether the US president’s tweet and words will translate into actionable legislation. Mustikhan published a survey of some of these thoughts in an article titled “Wave of joy sweeps across Afghanistan, Balochistan & India over Trump’s first tweet of 2018”.