Pakistan

Muzzling online free speech

Aug 21, 2017
There doesn’t seem to be an end to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA)’s drive against ‘blasphemers’ on social media. The investigative body has sought action against 64,000 Facebook and Twitter accounts on complaints it received from state institutions and the public. In the recent past the drive against social media, termed by the government as action against ‘anti-state elements’, is in fact a bid to curb online criticism of government and the military. This is certainly not the first time state is cracking down on dissenting voices under the garb of national security or religion. The use of draconian laws makes the situation all the more dangerous. What is even more alarming is the fact that the FIA lacks ability to hold forensic inspection for facilitating the investigation against those accused of blasphemy and anti-state activities online. This was admitted by one of the agency’s officials before the Senate’s standing committee on Information Technology. This lack of expertise will certainly affect the investigation.
 
It is ironic that the deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif vows to revive civilian supremacy and warns of conspiracies against democracy,but his own party’s government has continued the policies that violate democratic principles.
 
While this purge is underway, a large number of pro-terrorist accounts are still operating on social media and are involved in hate speech against minority communities.Most of them remain untouched. Those who were interrogated and/or detained by the FIA three months ago included activists and citizen journalists who had been critical of the state. Contrary to what the authorities claim, there has been no action against sympathisers or apologists of terrorists under FIA’s ongoing drive.
 
In plain words,this so called drive against social media users is nothing but an attempt to muzzle free speech. The ruling party should realise that such policies will come to haunt them and other political forces, since the definitions of blasphemy and anti-state activism under law remain vague and the relevant laws can be conveniently misused against anyone.
 
We urge all democratic forces to resist the attempt to silence dissenters by the use of force. Censorship under the garb of national security should not be acceptable anymore.
 
Daily Times, August 21, 2017

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