• Naqvi stresses need to stem ‘false allegations’
• Invokes recent US legislation on TikTok to justify disruption of X (formerly Twitter) in Pakistan
• Someone should take responsibility for shutdown, says PTA chairman

LAHORE: As disruption of social media platform X stre­t­ched into its fifth week, Inte­rior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said on Tuesday the country needed “better laws” to regulate internet free speech.

“We need to make better laws,” he said when asked whe­ther his ministry was responsible for shutting down the platform, formerly known as Twitter.

“Expression is fine, but ma­k­ing false allegations agai­nst people is wrong — it’s happening and needs to be fixed,” he told reporters. “We must reassess our own laws and look into what is being misused.”

Apparently, to consolidate his government’s stiff stance on social media, the interior minister cited the United States as an example, saying that even that country did not tolerate such content.

“Even in a country like the US, the ban has been imposed on TikTok after such (negative criticism) things. We also need to review our laws to regulate social media,” he said, noting that smear campaigns were being run on social media against the judiciary and armed forces, and the misuse of social media would have to be checked.

However, Mr Naqvi evaded a question when asked that top government functionaries, including Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz, were issuing statements on their X accounts by using means like virtual private networks (VPNs).

The interior minister also got annoyed when a journalist asked him that in the money laundering case against President Asif Zardari, he was also summoned by NAB in the past. “This isn’t true,” he said and told the journalist not to ask “wrong questions”.

Access to X has been disrupted in many areas of Pakistan since Feb 17, when former Rawalpindi commissioner Liaquat Chattha accused the chief election commissioner and the chief justice of Pakistan of rigging the Feb 8 general elections.

On Monday, Information Minister Attaullah Tarar reversed his earlier claim that “X is still working and no ban imposed” and insisted that the platform was already banned when the current government took over the reins from the caretaker setup. He added that there was no official notification of the clampdown.

‘Someone should take responsibility’

On Tuesday, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Hafeezur Rehman declared that he would raise the issue of X’s closure with the interior ministry.

In a telephonic conversation with Dawn.com, Mr Rehman, a retired major general, said: “Either the matter should be cleared or someone should take responsibility for it. The closure of social media forums is always directed by the interior ministry.”

When asked whether any instruction was issued regarding shutting down X in the country, the PTA chairman stated there was confusion for now. “I have asked my staff that my internet is working even though I do not have a VPN.”

Mr Rehman said a meeting took place on Feb 8 at 5am in Interior Secretary Aftab Durrani’s office where it transpired that there were security threats on election day. “We were ordered to shut down the internet [on the day] and we formally tweeted about it as well,” he told Dawn.com.

He said it should be clarified whether X was shut or else someone should take responsibility for it.

‘Laughing stock’

Amnesty International and the PTI have demanded immediate the restoration of X.

“The government has made Pakistan a laughing stock in the international community due to the unjustified blockage on social media and the chain of oppression against its own citizens,” a PTI spokesperson said.

He said the unjustified closure of the internet, especially social media websites, on a daily basis to conceal facts regarding the alleged mandate theft in the general elections provided opportunities for the world to ridicule the country.

‘Terrorists to get befitting response’

Interior Minister Naqvi, who is also chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, further said that there would be no compromise on terrorism. “Terrorists will be given the answer in their language,” he said.

He said that all illegal immigrants would have to leave the country, adding that “positive changes” would be brought about in the FIA.

On contesting Senate elections, Mr Naqvi said he would succeed on April 2 as an independent candidate from Punjab.

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2024

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