The government of Pakistan threatened unspecified “legal action” against Wikipedia and Google this weekend for featuring content about Ahmadi Muslims — considered “impostor” Muslims by radical Islamists — and for featuring cartoons of Muhammad in search results.
Pakistan is an Islamic country currently led by Islamist Prime Minister Imran Khan. Khan has repeatedly advocated for a global law against blasphemy, enforced through the United Nations, and has dismissed freedom of expression as a valid reason not to persecute those who offend any Muslim anywhere. Pakistan is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, where it has spearheaded anti-“blasphemy” initiatives.
Blasphemy against Muhammad is punishable by death according to Pakistan’s legal code.
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), which oversees the management and censorship of all mass media, published letters it allegedly sent to Google and Wikipedia on Friday ordering them to remove content about the Ahmadiyya community and “deceitful information” about Islam.
“PTA has been receiving complaints regarding misleading search results associated with ‘Present Khalifa of Islam’ and unauthentic version [sic] of Holy Quran uploaded by Ahmadiyya Community on Google Play Store,” the letter to Google read. “Being a matter of very serious nature [sic], PTA has approached Google Inc. with the directions to immediately remove the unlawful content.”
“Complaints were also received regarding hosting of caricatures of Holy Prophet (PBUH) and dissemination of misleading, wrong, deceptive, and deceitful information through articles published on Wikipedia portraying Mirza Masroor Ahmad as a Muslim,” the statement from the PTA continued. “After extensive communication on the matter, Wikipedia has been finally served with the notice to remove the sacrilegious content to avoid any legal action.”
Press Release: PTA issues Notices to Google Inc. and Wikipedia on account of disseminating sacrilegious content through the platforms. pic.twitter.com/AhG9PHCJS1
— PTA (@PTAofficialpk) December 25, 2020
Neither platform has, at press time, responded to the request.
Ahmadi Muslims believe most of the tenets of Sunni Islam, but believe the mahdi, or the Islamic Messiah, has already arrived on earth in the 1800s in the person of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who lived in Qadian, India. The Ahmadiyya consider their current leader, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the “Present Khalifa of Islam.”
As a result of their differences with mainstream Sunnis, the Ahmadi face severe persecution in Pakistan. The Pakistan constitution, which designates special provisions for the governance of Muslims, does not apply to them. Mob attacks — also very common against Christians — occur frequently against known Ahmadis. According to Amnesty International, “targeted killings” of Ahmadi people increased significantly throughout 2020. Between July and November 2020, killers have committed at least five documented homicides against Ahmadis.
“The penal code explicitly discriminates against religious minorities and targets Ahmadis by prohibiting them from ‘indirectly or directly posing as a Muslim,’ Amnesty noted in November. “Ahmadis are banned from declaring or propagating their faith publicly, building mosques, or making the Muslim call for prayer.”
As the Pakistani penal code proscribes prison time or death for those convicted of blasphemy, and the Ahmadi sect is considered prima facie blasphemous, Ahmadis face routine arrests on charges of blasphemy for publicly being known to hold their beliefs.
Pakistan also requires Sunni Muslims to declare Ahmadis “imposters” to receive documentation like passports.
Most mainstream Muslims consider any depiction of Muhammad, whom they venerate as a prophet, haram, or sinful. The issue of depictions of Muhammad triggered mob protests attracting thousands of people throughout Pakistan in October and November following the beheading of a schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, in France. Paty had shown images of Muhammad drawn by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to students during a class on freedom of expression, prompting a Chechen teen jihadist to behead him. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron awarded Paty the nation’s highest honor and vowed, “we will never give up cartoons.”
Thousands of Pakistanis took the streets to protest Macron — not Paty’s killer — violating anti-pandemic protocols. The government of Pakistan at the time pressured Twitter to take down images of Charlie Hebdo cartoons projected onto buildings in France in honor of Paty.
Pakistani censors also banned another technology company, the Chinese platform Tiktok, in October, claiming it was full of “indecent” content.
Khan has attempted to bring his nation’s censorship of allegedly anti-Islamic content to the world stage.
“We stress that willful provocations and incitement to hate and violence must be universally outlawed,” Khan told the United Nations General Assembly in September. “This Assembly should declare an ‘International Day to Combat Islamophobia’ and build a resilient coalition to fight this scourge — scourge that splits humanity.”
Pakistan won its seat on the Human Rights Council a month later.
“I am pleased with Pakistan’s re-election to the U.N. Human Rights Council … we stand resolute against Islamophobia & in support of mutual respect,” Khan wrote on Twitter in celebration of the country’s new position.
Khan has regularly used Twitter to promote his Islamist policies. In November, he posted the message, “blasphemy in the garb of freedom of expression is intolerable.”
“Any insult, ridicule and mocking of Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) causes the greatest pain to the Muslims community,” Khan said at the time. “The European powers and Western countries must understand that you can’t use freedom of expression as a weapon to cause Muslims the pain by insulting our Prophet (PBUH).”
The General Assembly adopted a Pakistan-drafted resolution this month against blasphemy.
“The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution co-sponsored by Pakistan and the Philippines on the ‘Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue’ by an overwhelming majority,” Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry announced on December 3. “This resolution is part of Pakistan’s global efforts to promote interfaith harmony, tolerance, respect for each other’s religions and values, and peaceful co-existence.”
“The adoption of this resolution by the UN General Assembly is part of Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts inter alia for raising awareness about Islamophobia and countering the defamation of sacred religious personalities and symbols,” the ministry asserted.
Western free societies voted against the bill with “vehement” opposition, according to Pakistan’s Express Tribune.
Correction: This article originally identified Mirza Masroor Ahmad as the Ahmadi mahdi; Ahmadis believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the Islamic mahdi.