Blasphemous contents on social media: FIA initiates probe against NGOs funding disallowed publication -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Blasphemous contents on social media: FIA initiates probe against NGOs funding disallowed publication

Pakistan Press Foundation

Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has initiated investigation against the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which are allegedly financing/ funding for promotion/publication of blasphemous contents on social media. “The FIA has arrested four persons allegedly involved in spreading blasphemous contents on social media and currently they are on physical remand,” revealed Deputy Director FIA Nauman Ashraf, while briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication here on Monday.

The committee met with Captain Muhammad Safdar (retd) in the chair, where FIA and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) briefed the committee over actions taken for removal of blasphemous material from social media. The FIA official informed the parliamentary panel that a separate investigation has been launched against NGOs, allegedly funding blasphemous contents on social media; however, the official refused to share the names of the arrested persons with the committee, saying the matter is under investigation. However, he said the persons arrested included one from Islamabad, two from Karachi and one from Sargodha.

State Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Anusha Rehman blamed the NGOs for weakening the Cyber Crime Law, saying they moved high courts on the pretext of attack on their freedom of expression. The committee chairman stated neither Facebook nor Youtube would be blocked in the country, adding that social media cannot be allowed for promotion of blasphemous and objectionable material.

Chairman PTA Ismail Shah said that Pakistan had sent a letter to Facebook and in response the social media website agreed to block such material. The PTA had taken several steps even before the matter was taken up by the court and Facebook was requested to block such material and relevant accounts. Facebook on several occasions took out the material. However, new accounts are created with the similar contents. These accounts were reported to Facebook and they did take some action but not to the satisfaction of the PTA.

Keeping this in mind, the chairman PTA met Facebook senior officials in Barcelona (Spain) on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress and highlighted the matter in the strongest possible terms and sought its cooperation. Resultantly, Facebook started co-operating fully by removing and blocking reported contents for Pakistan. There were two Facebook accounts mentioned by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) with the name “Behnsa” and “Machar” which were searched by the PTA, additionally 080 pages were also identified with similar names containing blasphemous contents. The same were reported to Facebook and were blocked for Pakistani viewership. Besides, the PTA has also searched, identified and blocked 12,846 websites containing blasphemous contents till date.

In addition to this the PTA has developed an electronic portal to facilitate stakeholders to lodge complaints relating to any objectionable web content. In this regard, around 1,700 complaints have been received so far which were disposed of accordingly. An email is also notified in the media facilitating general public to inform the PTA about any blasphemous content. Email address is info@pta.gov.pk. A research cell comprising of 25 IT personnel has been developed by the PTA which proactively searches blasphemous contents and takes action as per SOP.

The PTA has deployed a team of 25 personnel for this purpose and so far it has blocked around 12,846 such links. Given the fact that a huge amount of contents is being produced every minute and uploaded on the internet, it is almost impossible to restrict and block any one or more of the content categories completely, the PTA chairman added.

The chairman PTA was directed by the interior minister to contact the senior management of Facebook and invite them to visit Pakistan. The same was complied with and as a result Facebook management has shown its willingness to come to Pakistan and assured cooperation. So far on Facebook, 93 blasphemous links have been blocked by Facebook administration for viewership in Pakistan.

The committee was further informed that there is no technical solution to the problem. Moreover, local application development can help regulate and block objectionable contents, albeit not with 100 per cent success, as even if the whole platform is blocked, people would have many other methods to reach and upload contents on different platforms.

The committee unanimously expressed serious concerns over the issue of blasphemous/objectionable material posted on social media and asked the ministry, PTA and FIA representatives about the actions taken till date and the progress to mitigate the issues relating to this important subject.

To further strengthen the efforts, the committee directed the chairman PTA to establish a separate wing within the PTA and strengthen existing systems to monitor proactively the appearance of blasphemous/objectionable contents and posts on social media, besides taking remedial actions.

The committee also directed to the relevant quarters to raise this issue and highlight it further with the ambassadors of other Muslim countries to enable joint diplomatic efforts to effectively deal with the issue by social media platform providers. An important recommendation was made to take the matter up through the platforms of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and relevant agencies of the United Nations.

The committee also suggested the consultation with Council of Islamic Ideology for establishing all inclusive and sound approaches to this sensitive subject. It was also decided to recommend a public awareness campaign through SMS messages by all mobile companies and similar messages through print & electronic media. In the context of addressing the financial and funding sources of the blasphemers, the committee also directed to strengthen the regulatory mechanism to regulate the activity of local and foreign NGOs in Pakistan.

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