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Remove blasphemous content by 2018 or face ban: Pak's ultimatum to Facebook

Facebook rejected Pak's demand to link new accounts to mobile numbers making it easier for govt

ANI  |  Islamabad 

Representative image
Representative image

platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber were once welcomed in as mediums for engaging in religious debate and afforded a measure of privacy, but today pressure is building on these platforms to reveal names of individuals or groups engaging in or any other kind of "illegal" speech or discourse.

In recent months, Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had increased pressure on both and Twitter to identify individuals suspected of

Earlier this month, The Guardian reported that Vice President (Public Policy) Joel Kaplan with Khan to discuss Islamabad's demand that either removes blasphemous content or be blocked across

That would become the means for a crackdown on was seen as a bitter twist for platforms that claim to want to increase openness and allow for free flow of ideas.

Facebook has rejected Pakistan's demand that new accounts be linked to a mobile phone number, a provision that would make it easier for the to identify account holders.

Currently, opening a Facebook account in requires only an email address, while mobile phone users must provide fingerprints to a national database.

According to prominent academic and activist Pervez Hoodbhoy, platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber were places "where you could discuss the hypocrisy of people whose behaviour was loathsome but who wore the thick garb of piety."

He said the government's decision to track down people "wherever you are and however you might want to hide," suggests that "Pakistan is fast becoming a Saudi-style fascist religious state", claimed Hoodbhoy.

Last month, 30-year-old Taimoor Raza, a Shia Muslim was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad on Facebook.

According to The Guardian, he was participating in an online debate with a man who turned out to be an undercover counter-terrorism agent.

His death sentence was the first to result from a posting and is an extreme example of Islamabad's escalating battle to enforce its laws, which criminalize insulting Islam.

Established under British colonial rule, these blasphemy laws have been criticized by both religious and secular reformers, who argue that they are used to persecute minorities, settle personal scores and stifle debate.

In 2013, the Pakistan government requested data on 210 users, according to Facebook's government request report. By 2016, government requests had risen to 2,460 accounts, with Facebook complying with about two-thirds.

Parents are now telling their children to self-censor on Facebook, Hoodbhoy was quoted, as saying, especially in light of the lynching in April of Mashal Khan - a university student who was accused of offending Islam.

Ahmad Waqas Goraya, an activist and blogger, said that the standards for blasphemy had been lowered as the government used anti-blasphemy laws to crack down on dissent.

Goraya was one of five bloggers abducted for four weeks in January for being critical of the military establishment.

Pakistan is not the only country where Facebook is being asked to either censor content or be blocked. Thailand and Vietnam are the two other countries where strictures are being applied.

Pakistan is in the process of rerouting its internet traffic through China, laying a 500-mile fibre optic cable from the China-Pakistan border to Rawalpindi.

Some fear the project will lead to a block of Facebook in Pakistan, similar to the one in China. The project is expected to be finished next year.

First Published: Sat, July 29 2017. 12:35 IST