Blocking social media is no solution: IHC -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Blocking social media is no solution: IHC

Pakistan Press Foundation

ISLAMABAD: Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) here on Monday while hearing petitions against blasphemous contents on social media said that blocking of social media in view of blasphemous content was not a solution.

Appearing before the bench, the government contended that over 85 percent of blasphemous content had been removed from the social media. The IHC lauded efforts of the federal government that convened a meeting of the ambassadors of the Muslim countries but lamented over the fact that Pakistani Foreign Office did not recorded its protest with the ambassador of the country that is having ownership of social media.

Secretary interior submitted before the court a letter of the vice president Global Public Policy Facebook to Ch Nisar Ali Khan and said that 85 percent blasphemous content had been removed from social media and now there left only 15 percent.

Justice Siddiqui told the government machinery to proactively pursue this issue without any fear or pressure from “Laltain or Mom-Batti”. In another petition against obscene and immoral contents on Pakistani televisions, the same IHC bench while expressing itsastonishment over the matter that there was no censorship of contents displayed at different channels and there was no one to check material containing obscenity. In this matter, the IHC bench directed Pakistan Broadcaters Assoctaion (PBA) Chairman Mian Amer Mehmood to appear before the court on next date of hearing.

Mian Amer Mehmood will be responding to the court regarding the question to which extent PBA members adhered to the code of conduct and how many had constituted the monitoring committees under article 17 of the code of conduct.

The two petitions were heard together. In the first petition against blasphemous contents on social media, Ministry of Interior Secretary Arif Ahmed Khan told the court about the meeting of the Muslim country ambassadors on March 22, 2017 in the context of evolving joint strategy to counter this menace.

Last time, IHC bench had observed that the issue of blasphemous contents on social media could affect security and integrity of Pakistan. In today’s order, IHC bench said that a report regarding once missing and then resurfacing of bloggers was still missing and also about the NGOs which worked for such kind of things. The bench directed the respondents to do the needful till next date of hearing.

On start of proceedings, FIA director submitted before the court that in connection with investigation of FIR three persons had been arrested for their involvement in uploading blasphemous contents on social media. Two out of these three were directly involved in this heinous crime.

Secretary Interior told the court that internet is a vast medium and closure of Facebook is not a solution to the problem. IHC bench was told about the formation of Joint Investigation Team (JIT) at which the bench said “this court is not supposed to supervise the investigation. It is up to the investigation agency to deal with the issue by ensuring due process of law, transparency and merit oriented conclusion. It must be in the knowledge of the agency that its duty is to collect the evidence and conclude the investigation in accordance with law. There is no need to submit any report with regard to progress of investigation”.

The IHC bench said that FIA should take action at all complaints but bear in mind that no innocent person may be grilled. The bench said that if social media wages a war against us, what remedy we have and where our information technology wing is. Justice Siddiqui noted in the order “Ministry of Information Technology is behaving like silent spectator having no mechanism to deal with the issue and visionary approach with regard to steps to be taken”.

There is carpet bombing and drone attacks going on at our ideological boundaries. Ideology of Pakistan, Sunnah of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) and the common binding force for all Muslims in the shape of love and respect for the Prophet (PBUH) regardless of color, creed and sect were the boundaries under attack, Justice Siddiqui said.

He further said that the Ministers like Ahsan Iqbal, Baligh-ur-Rehman and Sardar Yousaf should raise their voice in this regard. We are not summoning any minister to the court but they should raise their voices.

Further, Justice Siddiqui also expressed his disappointment over the ability of state of machinery to deal with this issue. IHC noted “when this court inquired from all the officials in attendance that what are the preventive measures against the war waged through social media unfortunately no satisfactory answer came from any of the officers. The top leadership of the country needs become proactive on the issue for raising national ‘firewall’ enabling Pakistan to monitor Pakistan’s internet traffic and all the users”.

In the last hearing Advocate General Islamabad Mian Abdur Rauf had told the court that the Attorney General of Pakistan has gone to perform Umrah and on next date of hearing he will appear before the court to apprise about the steps taken with regard to inclusion of pornography, blasphemy and false allegation of blasphemy in Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016.

During today’s hearing Attorney General of Pakistan could not appear before the court at which IHC bench said that the attorney general may appear next date of hearing that is March 31.

IHC bench while hearing of the case observed that why Minister of State for Information Technology Anosha Rehman has not been letting PECA 2016 amended. IHC bench observed that Ministry of Interior and Information did a commendable effort but it is Ministry of Information Technology that has not been working properly.

A legal counsel Col (R) Inamul Rahim submitted before the court that the negation of holocaust and uploading any material against it on internet is a crime in USA. Ministry of Information Technology officials submitted before the court that we are also aggrieved by the presence of blasphemous contents on social media and trying our best. Chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Ismail Shah told the court that they have deputed 25 persons team to search for such contents on social media. Shah requested the court not to close Facebook as it provides them with clues. Chairman PTA said that Facebook removed blasphemous contents that is good development. 40 pages on Facebook have been blocked while we had written a letter for the closure of 23 others. He told the court that public can contact PTA in case they see any blasphemous content on social media.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui told the respondents that proceed in this matter step by step. First utilise the forum of OIC and then go for United Nations.

In the main petition petitioner Salman Shahid through his counsel Muhammad Tariq Asad advocate has been seeking blockage of blasphemous pages on social media and directions for the government to initiate legal proceedings against the page administrators.

In second petition against obscenity on television channels that was filed by Advocate Muhammad Waqas Malik, Chairman Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Absar Alam told the court that he himself was a petitioner in the apex Supreme Court of Pakistan for the formation of media code of conduct that was notified in 2015.

IHC bench observed that there is a code of conduct for media that is being violated every now and then. A drunken person has been abusing Allama Iqbal on television. A so-called intellectual was saying that Islamic history is manifestation of bloodshed.

Chairman Pemra read articles from the code of conduct. He submitted that Pemra rarely take suo moto action however on receipt of a complaint, action in accordance with law is taken. Alam told the court that Pemra will submit a comprehensive report identifying violations of the code of conduct by different television channels in respect of contents contained in different programmes, dramas, morning shows and advertisements.

IHC bench questioned chairman Pemra that during last date of hearing he was shown an objectionable clip in the morning show of a well known TV channel. What he did in this regard?

At this Absar Alam said that the said clip was on air at 10am in the morning show and by 4 pm in the evening, channel was served with a show cause notice. Time to submit reply will lapse this week and the channel will be given a personal hearing in this regarding, chairman Pemra also said.

Chairman Pemra further submitted that the authority has a resolve to counter all such things but its human resource is still deficient. IHC bench while addressing to chairman Pemra observed that if TV channels were acting upon the directions for putting 10 % public service messages on air.

Justice Siddiqui asked Absar Alam that there is an impression that you favour a particular TV channel. At which Alam said that he has been in journalism for the last 25 years and the particular TV channel is being referred here, he only served there for 15 months.

Chairman Perma told the court that Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) is the main stakeholder therefore its essential to achieve the objects in the Code of Conduct. He further told the court that PBA is a signatory of the code of conduct that was submitted before the apex Supreme Court.

Chairman Pemra told the court that the regulatory authority till this time has imposed 60 million rupees fines on different TV channels, closed 8 TV channels and ban was imposed on 9 TV programmes.

He further told the court that when Pemra imposes a ban, TV channels obtain stay orders from the courts. Petitioner in person Waqas Malik has cited Secretary Cabinet Division, Secretary Ministry of Information, Secretary Ministry of Interior and Chairman Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) as respondents.

The petitioner said that according to article 2 of the Constitution of Pakistan, Islam shall be religion of the state. Further it is in the constitution under different articles that the state shall enable people of Pakistan to live their lives according to the teachings of Islam. That according to the Pemra code of conduct no programme containing pornographic or obscene or an abusive comment could be put on air. Further, no programme containing racial, ethnic or lingual contempt or hatred could be put on air, the petitioner said. And TV programmes must not be directed against the sanctity of home, family and marital harmony. That TV channels operating in the country have no hesitation in showing tempting, obscene and a deliberate nudity in their advertisement, news items, ramp walks/fashion shows, film awards and now their dramas. A concept of deviation from Islamic values and in the name of modernisation, a specific agenda is being injected in the society.

The petitioner said that the public at large in immensely invaded by the nude and filthy stuff and they are helpless. He also sought court’s intervention regarding airing of foreign contents on national media.

The petitioner prayed to the court to direct the respondents to keep a check on TV channels and bar them from airing obscene clips, immoral TV ads and airing foreign contents. IHC bench put off the hearing in this matter till April 4.

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