Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was heckled by a Canadian participant at a digital media freedom conference in United Kingdom over Twitter censorship.
During a panel discussion on free speech on Thursday, Qureshi was interrupted by Ezra Levant of The Rebel Media — a Canadian far-right political website that has a history of running conspiratorial content regarding Pakistan.
In a video clip of the verbal assault on the minister shared by journalist Munizae Jahangir on Twitter, Levant said the organisers should be embarrassed to invite a “censorious thug” to talk about free speech.
The journalist alleged that his Twitter account had been suspended over complaints from the Pakistan government.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Twitter didn’t delete my whole account. But they deleted a tweet they said violated Pakistani law. Twitter said that to me in an email. I’m in Canada. Twitter is in America. But Pakistan censored us,” he tweeted.
Levant's verbal assault on the Pakistani minister was covered extensively in international media — which lauded Levant for "uncovering the real face of Pakistan” — and shared gleefully by critics of the incumbent government.
But while pervasive censorship in Pakistan is a very valid concern and criticism of the same should in no way be discouraged, there is more to the incident than which was immediately obvious.
Who is Ezra Levant, really?
Levant’s Twitter bio reads: “Rebel commander at The Rebel Media. We tell the other side of the story.”
On Rebel Media, which is a right-wing white supremacist website, the author claims to have been designated “most irritating Canadian” by The Globe and Mail’s TV critic in 2014.
Rebel Media's team of citizen journalists, on a post about its reporting plan for covering the conference, had written that they will “do our best to grill politicians about their censorship plans”.
Not surprisingly, besides reporting on the FM Qureshi spat, The Rebel Media’s coverage of the conference featured a campaign in support of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon — also known as Tommy Robinson, a British far-right and anti-Islam activist — and the blasphemous Danish cartoon controversy.
“Among the displays [at the conference] is a wall dedicated to censorship and political cartoons, but the absence of the infamous Danish Mohammad cartoon gives the display a different feeling,” Rebel Media fumed.
A look into Rebel Media’s coverage of Pakistan also reveals that it has advocated in the past against foreign aid to the country, painting it as an “extremist, radical state, home to some of the greatest monsters on earth.”
Some of their other headlines include: “Radical Pakistani national runs illegally in Canadian election” and “Facebook’s ugly relationship with Pakistan #FacebookDropPakistan.”
Other team members of the Canadian far-right outlet include Gavin McInnes of the neo-fascist organisation Proud Boys, and far-right English media personality Katie Hopkins.
The Rebel’s YouTube channel, Rebel Media, has more than one million subscribers, but usually breaks more than 10,000 views on any given video. Columns and video segments of the web network largely revolve around fear-mongering about immigrants and advancing racist, Islamophobic, and white nationalist tropes.
While the claims made by Levant on Pakistan’s complaint to Twitter for his account suspension remain unverified, the website’s sectoral agendas certainly give rise to important questions about the root of his anger.