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It’s not just the Pakistani authorities that have been intimidating those who voice dissent and criticism on the internet.

The government has also been taking down websites, according to independent digital rights activists in Pakistan. Currently, over 800,000 websites are estimated to be banned in the country. And prominent social media websites have had to face bans in the country, too. As an example, YouTube was banned for almost five years and was only allowed to broadcast in the country when they agreed to introduce a localized version for the country. The ban came into force in 2012 after an anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims,” was uploaded to the site, sparking violent protests across major cities in Pakistan. Similarly, Facebook was also banned for some months over a contest for a cartoon drawing of the prophet Mohammad, which was deemed offensive to Muslims.

Once Facebook was restored, it began collaborating with the Pakistani authorities. In fact, Pakistan has emerged as one of the top countries in the world for requesting censoring of content on Facebook, as a new official report by the social media giant revealed in December 2018. According to an analysis of the Facebook report, Pakistan made 2,203 requests for content restriction — the highest in the world — during the first six months of 2018, more than a 700% increase in such requests compared to the corresponding period within the previous year. Pakistan has about 36 million Facebook users, according to the company data.

In addition to taking down “subversive” pages, Facebook is also suspending anonymous accounts in the country, especially those found talking about the Pashtun Tahaffuz (Protection) Movement (PTM). Pashtuns are the second-largest ethnic group in Pakistan, mostly in the northwest of the country, next to Afghanistan’s border. They became embroiled in the War on Terror conflict after 9/11, and have been squeezed between the military and the militancy that has taken root in their region after the fall of the Afghan Taliban’s government in the neighboring country, with many of the terrorists taking refuge among them. The Pashtuns feel they have been targeted by Pakistani security forces due to their location, and fear they are being stereotyped as terrorists when they are in fact victims of terrorism themselves. They have challenged the military narrative on the war, and questioned military operations in their area, along with rampant human rights abuse against their ethnic group.


PTM subsequently arose as a grassroots movement launched in the country by a fiery young man named Manzoor Pashteen. Pashteen hails from Waziristan, a Pashtun-dominated region in the northwest of Pakistan. His struggle began in the wake of the extra-judicial killing of a Waziristan youngster in Karachi city, allegedly by a policeman currently facing a trial over the same incident.

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However, as authorities have been reluctant to act against the officer, many believe he is being protected by representatives of the Pakistan Army in the city, and that he has been carrying out such killings in the city at their behest. Given that it challenges the preferred military narrative, PTM is completely banned from coverage by the mainstream media, and therefore most of the PTM leaders and followers rely on social media for news and information.

 But with the ongoing crackdowns against social media, many PTM activists have also complained of harassment. One such user, who wishes to remain anonymous, alleges that Facebook may even be passing private information to the government — an accusation about Facebook that was recently echoed by international digital rights organizations, too. He says, “Facebook suspended my account first, and then asked me to send me my personal information along with a photo of me holding my ID card if I wanted my account reactivated, which made me suspect that they may be passing this information on to the Pakistani authorities as I have been anonymously campaigning for PTM, and have quite a huge following on social media.” This Facebook user claims he then faked his documents to avoid giving Facebook any real information. Other users have also complained of their posts being limited to an audience in Pakistan. It is ironic, however, Twitter has also sent out legal notices to Pakistani users telling them they have been violating Pakistani laws and explaining that they are reaching out to due to ‘official correspondence.’

 ” KIDNAPPED: Social media activist Waqas Goraya was abducted, tortured and sexually abused that pages that promote militancy and hate speech against religious minorities continue to operate freely on the platform without any restrictions, which also reveals Facebook’s dual policy towards censorship. Facebook is not the only social media channel that intimidates its online users. Twitter has also sent out legal notices to Pakistani users telling them they have been violating Pakistani laws and explaining that they are reaching out to due to “official correspondence”. I also received a similar notice, and my account was subsequently suspended twice within 72 hours. After prominent social media users and journalists reached out to the Twitter management on my behalf, my account was unsuspended and the staff sent me a clarification explaining that it was done in error, and they did not come under any pressure and would stand up for freedom of expression as that is their main objective. Nevertheless, Twitter’s legal team continues to send these messages to other Twitter users in the country, which has resulted in many choosing to go silent on the platform. Besides using authorities and social media giants to silence critics, Pakistan’s military has also been running social media cells with troll armies that attack dissent and try to discredit credible voices on social media by running fake hashtag trends and spreading propaganda against users. These troll armies are run by youths hired from Pakistani universities who are used to organizing online hate campaigns. A few years ago, I met some of these students, who had been tasked with following prominent social media accounts and were volunteering at the military media wing in Rawalpindi, where the Pakistan Army is headquartered.

09 Feb 2019/Saturday                                                             Source: The Investigative Journal



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