Pakistan: Are social media platforms blasphemy tools?
In Pakistan, social media networks like Facebook were once platforms where people could debate religion. However, now Pakistan's government thinks these platforms are blasphemy tools. The networks are being pressurized to reveal names of those engaging in -what the government says are- blasphemy and illegal religious activities. As Pakistan's encounter with social media turns worrisome, activists are criticizing the crackdown on freedom of online-speech.
Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan's statement
In Mar'17, Khan stated: "Nothing can be greater than our religion to us. If social media platforms do not cooperate with us despite all our efforts, then we will take the strictest of measures against such platforms in the country."
Pakistan's way of tackling the online "blasphemy"
Khan recently met with Joel Kaplan, Facebook's Vice-President (Public Policy), to discuss Pakistan's demand that the platform should either remove blasphemous content or face a ban in the country. Asserting that Muslim nations must handle the issue in a united manner, he said, "The companies providing social media services will also get a clear message if we take a united stand on the issue."
Facebook says no to Pakistan's demand
Facebook recently rejected Pakistan's demand to link new accounts to mobile phone numbers so that the government can quickly identify blasphemers. Currently, users just need an email address for creating new Facebook accounts while cell phone users need to provide fingerprints to a national database.
Pakistan's battle against blasphemy leads to shutdown of online dissent
People are being warned to self-censor on Facebook, especially after the lynching of Mashal Khan in Apr'17 over unproven allegations of offending Islam. In Jun'17, Taimoor Raza was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad in an online-debate with an undercover counter-terrorism agent. Pakistani activist/blogger Ahmad Waqas Goraya said the standards in Pakistan further degraded when anti-blasphemy laws were enforced for online dissent.
Pakistani academic & activist Pervez Hoodbhoy on social media crackdown
Hoodbhoy said social media platforms were places where individuals discussed "the hypocrisy of people whose behavior was loathsome but who wore the thick garb of piety." Now, amid the crackdown, he suggested, "Pakistan is fast becoming a Saudi-style fascist religious state."
Blasphemy laws used for persecuting minorities, settling personal scores: Critics
Pakistan's blasphemy laws, established under the British rule, have faced sharp criticism from both secularists and religious reformers. Activists view the crackdown as the elimination of platforms that "increase openness and allow free flow of ideas", stifling debate. However, Pakistan isn't the only country threatening to block Facebook. Vietnam and Thailand threatened Facebook to censor anti-government and anti-royal family content, respectively.