ISLAMABAD: Social networking site Facebook is cooperating with authorities in Pakistan to block blasphemous content and 85pc of all sacrilegious material on the site has been permanently removed by Facebook’s management, the interior secretary told the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday.

During a hearing of a petition seeking the removal of blasphemous content from social media, Interior Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan informed IHC Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui that Facebook had blocked blasphemous content on the site at Pakistan’s request.

Only 15pc of such content remains online, and efforts are afoot for its permanent removal, the secretary told the court.

In response to the court’s query regarding blocking Facebook in Pakistan, the interior secretary said that banning the social networking website was not a solution if the blasphemous content could not be removed, since users can access the websites using different proxies.

He also told the court that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had arrested three suspects in connection with the case.

FIA says three suspects already in custody; court chides IT ministry, proposes ‘national firewall’

Authorities have seized mobile phones, laptops and computers from the suspects, which have been sent for forensic examination, adding that the men were arrested on suspicion of sharing and spreading blasphemous content via social media.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had also discussed the matter with envoys of 27 Muslim countries in a recent meeting held to devise a strategy to take up the issueon international forums, he added.

Justice Siddiqui appreciated the government’s efforts to take Muslim countries on board, remarking that the ideology of Pakistan was based on the teachings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him).

The interior secretary also told the court that the government was set to resolve the issue of blasphemy via social media on a “permanent basis”.

The FIA director informed the court that evidence was available against certain accused persons who were in custody, but the court was not supposed to supervise the investigation, since the agency was dealing the issue according to due process and would bring it to a merit-oriented conclusion.

The court again directed the FIA to submit details of the bloggers who went missing earlier this year and were later recovered and inquired which specific activity they were involved in and how they managed to leave Pakistan.

A director general of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) also submitted a report detailing the authority’s efforts and acknowledged that Facebook authorities had removed profane content from their website on Pakistan’s request.

The court also asked PTA to submit its latest findings in this regard in the form of a report. The court observed that the Ministry of Information and Technology (MoIT) is behaving like a silent spectator, with no mechanism to deal with the issue, nor any vision regarding the steps to be taken.

When the court asked all the officials present about preventive measures taken against the proliferation of such content through social media, no satisfactory answer was received.

The top leadership of the country needs to become proactive on the issue of raising a “national firewall”, enabling authorities to monitor Pakistan’s internet traffic and all users, the court observed.

The court also sought the assistance of the attorney general at the next hearing on the insertion of blasphemy and pornography in the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and the penal consequences of false accusation to blasphemy, proposed to be brought in the relevant law.

Subsequently, the court adjourned the case until March 31.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2017


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