Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar on Thursday threatened to block "all social media websites" that host blasphemous content hours after the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordered the government to open an investigation into online blasphemy.

The issue came to the fore in January, when five activists were reported missing. Four of the missing activists were returned to their families weeks later, but not before they were tarnished by a virulent campaign to paint them as 'enemies of Islam'.

On Thursday, the IHC ordered the government to open an investigation into online "blasphemy", threatening to ban social media networks if they failed to censor content deemed insulting to Islam.

"We will go to any extent [including] permanently blocking all such social media websites if they refuse to cooperate," the minister said in a statement.

No country can allow religious sentiments to be hurt or top state functionaries to be subjected to ridicule under what the minister described as "the pretext of freedom of expression."

IHC judge Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui asked the government to form an investigative committee to report back next Monday over the issue, saying he could order social media sites to be blocked if offending content remained online.

"The judge ordered the government to make a Joint Investigation Team with Muslim officials only to look into the blasphemy issue," said advocate Tariq Asad, the petitioner in the case.

Rights groups say the label of 'blasphemer' is liberally applied by religious conservatives in order to silence criticism of extremism.

Even unproven allegations can be fatal. At least 65 people, including lawyers, judges and activists, have been murdered by vigilantes over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to a recent think tank report.

Pakistan previously banned Facebook for hosting blasphemous content for two weeks in 2010, while YouTube was unavailable from 2012 to 2016 over an amateur film about Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) that led to global riots.

But Pakistan later came to agreements with major internet firms to block within the country material that violated its laws, generally once the companies had performed their own cross-checks.

Yasser Latif Hamdani, a lawyer who worked to get YouTube unblocked, said previous web censorship had also originated with court orders and the judge could succeed in implementing a fresh set of bans.

Opinion

Between boom and bust
Updated 24 Jun 2021

Between boom and bust

Ultimately the budget, and its aim to pump growth, will be left standing on two legs only — free oil and free dollars from abroad.
Judging without law
Updated 24 Jun 2021

Judging without law

The Supreme Court has yet to formulate a detailed procedure to conduct cases having far-reaching impacts on people’s lives.
Cold war II
23 Jun 2021

Cold war II

China and the West must find a better way.

Editorial

PM on Afghanistan
Updated 24 Jun 2021

PM on Afghanistan

Points raised by PM need to be pondered by all sides — specifically Afghan govt and Taliban — if a civil war is to be avoided.
24 Jun 2021

Third-party interest

WHAT should be done when third-party interest has been created where construction has been done illegally? It is an...
24 Jun 2021

Electricity policy

THE Council of Common Interests has unanimously approved the National Electricity Policy 2021 that will focus on...
PM’s views on rape
Updated 23 Jun 2021

PM’s views on rape

Rape is a crime primarily of power rather than lust, rooted in a contempt for others’ bodily integrity.
23 Jun 2021

Gas concerns

CONSUMERS face the prospect of ominous blackouts next month owing to the closure of two gas fields in Sindh, the ...
23 Jun 2021

New Iranian president

SAYYID Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s new president, is taking over at a time of great geopolitical flux, while the Islamic...