Govt plans to draw ‘red lines’ for social media in Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: As the controversy over the crackdown against online anti-army campaigners heats up, the government on Tuesday revealed its plan to draw red lines for the social media service providers for operating in Pakistan.
“There will be no restrictions on social media. But, yes, there will be red lines in accordance with the law and Constitution of the country,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a press conference, after a meeting with a representative delegation of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) and the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA).
However, he said nothing illegal was being done and advised critics of the crackdown not to create hurdles or hurl threats. He said the country’s social, moral and cultural values and law and dignity of people, not social media, were under attack. “Those attacking our values will be brought to book,” he warned.
Referring to the posts on social media following the withdrawal of an ISPR tweet rejecting the prime minister’s directive for implementation of recommendations of an inquiry committee formed to probe a Dawn report, he said such posts were unacceptable, particularly at a time when a “war against terror is being waged” to secure the country’s future.
He said action should be taken against individuals belonging to any political party or group, including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N, if they were found to be behind the malignant campaign.
The minister said 27 identifications and eight individuals had been identified and six of them interrogated so far. He said no arrest had been made yet and nobody had been harassed. The individuals were even allowed to bring their counsel with them.
He said a forensic analysis of computers and mobile phones of those suspected of being behind the campaign would be carried out following which they would be formally charged and arrested.
Replying to a question, Mr Nisar said he would ask the National Assembly speaker to convene a meeting of political parties to seek their views on the proposed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the social media service providers. He said systems of different countries were being examined to follow the best practices with respect to the code of conduct and SOPs for the service providers.
The interior minister said the service providers would be asked to open their offices in Pakistan, which would be facilitated by the government, and help develop some rules of the game with consensus.
He said those using fake identities for unleashing malicious propaganda had no point in claiming that it was freedom of expression. He said the government supported the freedom of expression but it was not at all applicable to those attacking values, decency and the law.
He said one of the proposals discussed during the meeting was linking social media accounts with mobile phone numbers of the users.
He said the meeting agreed to the need for framing a code of conduct for the media on (issues related to) national security and the media representative organisations decided to set up a committee for this purpose. He said the proposed code of conduct would be submitted to the government during a specified period and then would be fine-tuned to give it a final shape.
He said the meeting also decided that senior federal ministers would regularly hold meetings with the media organisations to address ongoing issues and defuse any burning issues.
He said almost all the recommendations of the inquiry committee on the Dawn report had been implemented. Alluding to the recommendation of referring the matter of Dawn to the APNS, he said there was a unanimous view of the media organisations that it should be referred to the CPNE.
About social media, the minister said it was an un-organised concept where anybody could create a fake or real account and write something on the wall having no boundaries. He said the free-for-all system had blatantly been misused in the past.
He also referred to the nonsensical blasphemous material recently circulated on social media and said an effort from the platform of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was under way to stop it once and for all.
About the controversy sparked by a Rangers raid at a housing society on the outskirts of the federal capital accused of sheltering Muttahida Qaumi Movement-London men and a leaked document revealing the interior ministry’s anger and threat to withdraw the paramilitary force from Islamabad, he said the overall performance of paramilitary forces was laudable. However, when some isolated incidents took place, they were taken notice of for accountability. “We will set the matters straight,” Chaudhry Nisar said.
He said the country was not only faced with terrorism but insurgency as well, which required help of the civil armed forces. He said that Pakistan Rangers was not a border force and had a mandate to assist police in internal security.
Answering a question, he said that the interior ministry was not creating hurdles in the way of issuance of red notice against former army chief retired Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s brother Kamran Kayani, who has been accused by the National Accountability Bureau of involvement in a multimillion rupee land scam in Lahore.
He said a lesson had been learnt from the case of (MQM-London founder) Altaf Hussain that a request to issue an arrest warrant to Interpol should not have any legal lacunae and should be drafted in line with their law and not Pakistani law.