ISLAMABAD: The Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir on Tuesday grilled the regional head of social media platform Twitter for silencing voices of thousands of Kashmiri and Pakistani activists projecting the plight of the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.

During a special hearing held here at the Parliament House, committee chairman Shehryar Khan Afridi led the questioning of George Salama, who heads Twitter’s regional office in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Afridi asked Mr Salama about Twitter’s policy on human rights and freedom of speech and whether Twitter regulations did not conform to the United Nations charter on freedom of speech and freedom of expression.

George Salama says voices of minorities will not be silenced

Mr Salama, who attended the meeting through Zoom, said Twitter had a specific policy and discouraged hate speech and upheld freedom of expression. He said the Twitter authorities would ensure freedom of speech to all and voices of minorities would never be silenced.

Responding to a question by Mr Afridi about the misuse of Twitter regulations by Indian activists as exposed by EU Disinfo Lab, Mr Salama said the Twitter management always ensured freedom of speech on social media, adding that Kashmiri activists were free to raise their voice with legitimate accounts. He offered to organise workshops in Pakistan along with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) for awareness of Pakistani and Kashmiri social media activists about Twitter regulations.

Mr Afridi said that when he was minister for interior two years back, Indian social media activists impersonating as Pakistanis were generating 80 tweets per minute from Indian cities to incite violence in Pakistan over the blasphemy issue.

He regretted that unfortunately Twitter had double standards as no action had been taken then against Indian agents posting tweets aimed at inciting hate and violence in Pakistan. He said that over eight million people of held Kashmir were being silenced under influence of Indian employees of Twitter.

Mr Salama said Twitter had zero tolerance against hate speech and violence, adding that the social media platform discouraged posting misleading content through fake accounts once reported. He said overlapping and duplicate content were also discouraged by the Twitter management.

He said Twitter position would remain equal for all parties of the conflict zone. “We are working closely with the PTA to ensure equal opportunities for social media users.”

Mr Afridi urged the committee members to come forward and show interest in heading various advisory boards so that subcommittees could be formed.

Special Secretary Lodhi informed the panel that to date the Kashmir committee did not have its rules of procedures. He also laid before the committee draft rules for approval which could be published.

Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif was nominated convener of the subcommittee on Advisory Board on Law for Kashmir.

The PTA chairman briefed the committee on the suspension of social media accounts under influence of Indian operators since August 5, 2019. He said the PTA had raised the issue of suspension of accounts of Pakistani users under the influence of a certain country and the Twitter management responded that users were free to accept or deny Twitter rules.

He said the federal cabinet had passed social media rules under which social media companies were bound to keep physical presence in Pakistan.

Law Minister Dr Farogh Naseem briefed the committee on the local and international laws on freedom of speech and freedom of information for eight million Kashmiris.

“We have already won our case of sovereignty on Jammu and Kashmir in the United Nations and Jammu Kashmir dispute must be resolved according to the international law,” law minister said, adding that the Modi regime was unleashing worst human rights violations to keep its illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pemra chairman informed the committee that private and public television channels had been contributing hugely to raising awareness about the Kashmir dispute.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2021

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