Wednesday December 11, 2019
Home Lead Story Post Anything...

Post Anything Against Islam (Blasphemy) and You Will be in trouble in Pakistan

In yet another repressive step, Pakistani government has announced formation of a Regulatory Body to monitor Online Blasphemous Content

0
//
In yet another repressive step, Pakistan government has announced formation of a Regulatory Body to monitor Online Blasphemous Content
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, urging the government to remove blasphemous content from social media and take stern action against those who posted blasphemous content on social media. VOA

Pakistan’s government has formed a regulatory body to monitor and block blasphemous content online in an effort to further extend the enforcement of the country’s controversial anti-blasphemy law into cyberspace.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the government-run communications regulatory agency, has created a 25-member group tasked with cracking down on websites, social media accounts and online pages that they consider offensive to Islam.

“The committee, being constituted by the Ministry of Interior, will include representatives from PTA, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the ministry,” Ismail Shah, PTA’s chairman, told the standing committee on information technology of Pakistan’s upper house of parliament recently.

FILE - Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, Ahmed Noorani, in photo, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 30, 2017.
FILE – Pakistani journalists protest to condemn an attack on their colleague, Ahmed Noorani, in photo, in Karachi, Pakistan, Oct. 30, 2017. VOA

Earlier in May, PTA had sent text messages to millions of cellphone users in the country and warned them not to post or share any blasphemous content online.

Controversial issue

Blasphemy remains a controversial issue in the Muslim-majority country where anyone labeled as “blasphemous” faces dangerous consequences: The law states anyone found guilty of insulting Islam will receive a sentence of life in prison or the death penalty.

As government is committed to scrutinizing online contents, some rights activists charge that monitoring the internet will be a slippery slope.

FILE - Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan.
FILE – Members of a Pakistani civil society demonstrate April 22, 2017, in Karachi, Pakistan, against the killing of Mashal Khan, a student at the Abdul Wali Khan University in the northwestern city of Mardan. VOA

“The monitoring of social media for blasphemous content is a dangerous precedent in Pakistan. The law has often been misused in the past and now a crackdown on internet will further complicate the situation,” Zohra Yusuf, a Pakistani human rights activist, told VOA.

Silencing dissent

Critics worry the state is using religion and national security as a pretext to discourage dissent on the internet, where people can express their opinions on topics such as politics, the military, social issues, women’s rights, religious freedom and human rights.

“In any democracy, such controls cannot be termed legal. Selective controls, targeted crackdown and culture of impunity only brings unrest in the society, especially for minorities and marginalized segments of the society,” Shahzad Ahmad, Pakistan director of the digital rights advocacy group Bytes for All, told VOA.

Lawmakers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party, however, vowing transparency in the enforcement of the law, defends the government’s action and considers it legal.

“PTA follows a process and blocks a blasphemous link after complete scrutiny. Similarly, the regulatory body completely investigates before anyone is apprehended or taken into the court under blasphemy charges,” parliament member Zahra Wadood Fatimi told VOA.

Threat to freedom

Despite assurances from the government, rights activists worry formation of the group could be considered a Trojan horse, which will lead to people losing the relative freedom of expression they enjoy in cyberspace.

“It will be another tool for the state and people to settle down personal scores and vendettas. Do we even remember the secular bloggers abducted earlier this year and returned as ‘blasphemers?’”Zohra Yusuf asked.

In January 2017, five secular social media activists went missing from different cities in Pakistan. The activists reappeared after a few weeks with a label of “bloggers who committed blasphemy,” local media reported.

The bloggers were critical of the country’s powerful military, the existing political system and human rights violations committed by different factions, according to reports, which said the bloggers, fearing for their lives, sought refuge abroad.

Harsh punishment

The state’s punishment is harsh for those found guilty of committing blasphemy. In some cases, when courts have not charged suspects, Pakistanis have taken the matter into their own hands.

A simple accusation that someone has committed blasphemy can lead to threats against the suspect. Other times, it could mean death.

In May, a Hindu man was rescued by police from a mob in Hub, Baluchistan. The man was accused of posting blasphemous content on social media.

In March, Mashaal Khan, 23, a journalism student of Abdul Wali Khan University in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province was beaten to death by fellow students. He had been accused of posting blasphemous content online.

Earlier this year, Islamabad’s High Court issued directives to the Ministry of Interior to take prompt action when it saw content it deemed blasphemous on the internet, even if it meant blocking social media websites in the country.

A few days later, Pakistan’s then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared online blasphemous content on social media a “nefarious conspiracy.” He directed his government to take strict actions against those involved in such activities. He also ordered officials to discuss the matter with international social media companies.

With the formation of PTA’s regulatory body on monitoring blasphemous contents online, there will likely be more restrictions in cyberspace and more scrutiny of those who talk out against religion online.

Reported by Madeeha Anwar of VOA.

Next Story

Pakistan Occupied Kashmir Areas Feature in New Political Map Released by Government

In a gazette notification, the government also enumerated the territories in Leh district as: "Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilas, Tribal territory

0
Pakistan, Kashmir, Political
The Ladakh UT consists of two districts -- Kargil and Leh -- while the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory comprises 20 districts. Pixabay

In the wake of the creation of separate Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, the government on Saturday released a new political map of the Indian Union, with 28 States and nine Union Territories (UTs). Pakistan.

The new map denotes the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and surprisingly includes three districts — Muzaffarabad, Punch and Mirpur — which are under Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Pakistan, Kashmir, Political
New Political Map of India. PIB

The Ladakh UT consists of two districts — Kargil and Leh — while the Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory comprises 20 districts.

In a gazette notification, the government also enumerated the territories in Leh district as: “Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilas, Tribal territory and Leh and Ladakh, except the present territory of Kargil.”

Pakistan, Kashmir, Political
The new map denotes the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and surprisingly includes three districts — Muzaffarabad, Punch and Mirpur — which are under Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Pixabay

The order was called the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Removal of Difficulties) Second Order, 2019.

The map of J&K UT comprises 20 districts, including Muzzarfarabad, Mirpur and the area of Poonch which are under PoK.

In 1947, the former Jammu and Kashmir state had 14 districts — Kathua, Jammu, Udhampur, Reasi, Anantnag, Baramulla, Poonch, Mirpur, Muzaffarabad, Leh and Ladakh, Gilgit, Gilgit Wazarat, Chilhas and Tribal Territory.

On the recommendation of the Parliament, President Ram Nath Kovind effectively abrogated Article 370 from the Indian Constitution and issued the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019, in August.

Also Read- Pollution can Cause Heart Attack, Adverse Impact on Reproductive Capabilities of Men

On October 31, J&K ceased to exist as a state and was officially bifurcated into two UTs — Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. (IANS)