ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan hinted that the government may block social media websites after an Islamabad High Court (IHC) judge warned that even the prime minister could be summoned, if necessary, in a case seeking the blocking of blasphemous content on the Internet.

“We will go to any extent even if we have to… permanently [block] all such social media websites if they refuse to cooperate”, said a statement issued by the interior ministry following a meeting attended by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman, interior secretary, advocate general and senior officials from the Federal Investigation Agency.

The statement, issued by an interior ministry spokesperson, came hours after proceedings of the IHC, where Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui observed that even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may be summoned, if required, over a petition seeking the blocking of blasphemous material on social media.

In his statement, the interior minister said that no blasphemous material that hurts the religious sentiments of the people of Pakistan can be allowed to be propagated through social media.


Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui threatens to summon PM; Ramna police lodge FIR against unidentified bloggers


This is not just an issue for Muslims living in Pakistan alone; the sentiments of the entire Ummah have been hurt and Muslims all across the world have serious concerns over the failure of social media operators to block such blasphemous content, the statement said.

The minister said that blasphemy and terrorism were two major sensitivities over which the state would not make any compromises. The international community must realise that hurting any religion through any channel is an intolerable act.

He directed the PTA chairman to convey the government’s concerns to various foreign companies operating social media websites so a permanent solution could be found to block such material i.e. websites and Facebook pages, while simultaneously ensuring that such content is not uploaded through any other means or identity.

The minister directed the PTA chairman to convey to social media operators in no uncertain terms that the government of Pakistan would be forced to block all such social media websites that refused to cooperate.

The minister particularly mentioned Facebook’s refusal to cooperate in the matter regarding a false photograph of senior-most personality of the superior judiciary. Elaborating, he said that no country could allow its religious sentiments to be hurt so blatantly, nor allow its state functionaries to be subjected to ridicule under the pretext of freedom of expression.

Court case

In the order of the day issued after Thursday’s hearing, Justice Siddiqui noted that the chief executive of the country was supposed to be aware of the issue at hand, but it appeared that the content has not been brought to his notice.

The interior secretary informed the court that he would personally supervise the process, including action against the culprits, blocking of blasphemous pages and the measures to be adopted to stop such campaigns permanently.

In addition, the court was told that an FIR had been registered against unidentified persons, suspected of spreading blasphemous content on social media.

In the FIR, Ramna Police Station House Officer Irshad Ali Abro – who is also the complainant in the case – stated that he had observed that unidentified suspects were operating three pages – Bhensa, Mochi and Roshni – on social media.

A venomous campaign against state institutions and blasphemous material was present on these, which had hurt the sentiments of Muslims in the country.

The FIR has been registered under sections 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 295-C (use of derogatory remarks in respect of the Holy Prophet) and 298-A (use of derogatory remarks in respect of holy personages) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The court directed the information technology secretary to call a meeting where officials from internet service providers PTCL, Transworld, Nayatel’s Saad Saleem and IT ministry’s legal adviser Iftikhar Ahmed Bashir may be invited to work out a strategy.

Published in Dawn, March 10th, 2017

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