Islamabad has doubled down on enforcing Pakistan’s strict and controversial anti-Islamic blasphemy law, forming a regulatory body to monitor and block blasphemous content in cyberspace.
“Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the government-run communications regulatory agency, has created a 25-member group tasked with cracking down on websites, social media accounts and online pages that they consider offensive to Islam,” reports Voice of America (VOA).
“The committee, being constituted by the Ministry of Interior, will include representatives from PTA, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and the ministry,” revealed Ismail Shah, the PTA’s chairman, when speaking to a Pakistan parliament panel.
In May, PTA officials reportedly warned millions of Pakistan resident via text message not to post or share blasphemous content online, which involves anything seen as an explicit insult to Allah, Islam, or religious leaders.
Social media companies such are Facebook and Twitter are allegedly doing little to stop Pakistan’s efforts to crackdown on anti-Islamic content online.
Pakistani government officials have reportedly accused Facebook of assisting Islamabad in taking down such content.
The Muslim-majority country’s blasphemy law is primarily used to target religious minorities, namely Christians, according to several analysts, including the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), which tracks cases of Christian persecution in Pakistan.
Blasphemy criminal cases seldom result in a fair trial, often leading to the harsh verdict of life in prison or death mandated by the statue.
The first blasphemy-linked death sentence affiliated with social media surfaced earlier this year.
A Pakistani court found Taimoor Raza, 30, guilty of insulting the prophet Muhammad.
“Raza was arrested last year after a debate about Islam on Facebook with a man who turned out to be a counter-terrorism agent,” reported the Guardian. “He was one among 15 people arrested by the counter-terrorism department last year, accused of blasphemy, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.”
Although the Pakistani government has not yet carried out a blasphemy-related death sentence, Islamic extremists in the country have taken their version of justice into their hands
Mukhtar Masih, a 70-year-old Pakistani Christian arrested on charges of blasphemy earlier this year, recently died before he could face trial.
Christians as young as eight years old have been accused of insulting Islam in one way or another in Pakistan, where an estimated 100 people are reportedly detained on such charges each year.
Nevertheless, VOA notes, “As government is committed to scrutinizing online contents, some rights activists charge that monitoring the internet will be a slippery slope.”
“The monitoring of social media for blasphemous content is a dangerous precedent in Pakistan. The law has often been misused in the past and now a crackdown on internet will further complicate the situation,” Zohra Yusuf, a Pakistani human rights activist, told Voice of America.
VOA learned that Pakistan might be using the controversial law as a pretext to silence dissent on the internet.