Sorting out blasphemous content: Facebook agrees to send team to Pakistan

Nisar hints at taking strict steps against ‘non-compliant’ social networking websites

ISLAMABAD - In a major development, the Facebook administration has agreed to send a delegation to Pakistan to sort out the issue of blasphemous content circulating on the social networking site.

“The administration of Facebook has agreed to send its delegation to Pakistan to address the concerns of the government. The Facebook in a letter has informed the government that it was ready to solve the matter through dialogue and consultation and was aware of the stance of Pakistan on the blasphemous content. The Facebook has also appointed a focal person for coordination with the PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority),” said a statement issued by the interior ministry while quoting the minister late on Thursday evening.

Earlier speaking at a media-talk-cum-press conference, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that the government would not leave the issue of the presence of blasphemous content on social networking sites unaddressed and could go to any length to block them.

He said that the government would take a final decision on the functioning of social media networking sites in Pakistan within next three to four days keeping in view their response on the issue.

“We will take strict steps if their administration responded in the negative without taking into account any criticism,” said the minister after inaugurating a “Citizens’ Facilitation Centre” at the Islamabad Deputy Commissioner office. He deplored that it was astonishing that no one could talk on Holocaust in the West and the US but Islam and its sacred personalities were being disgraced in the name of freedom of expression.

Nisar went on to say that he had talked to Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Tareq Fatemi that all Muslim countries should raise the issue with these foreign corporations to block the blasphemous content. “We should make a collective plan of action and in this way, our voice would be more effective,” he said.

“I want to make it clear on behalf of the government that we would go to any extent to take action against those who had committed blasphemy on the social media,” he said while declaring that blasphemers were enemies of human beings. He, however, stressed that any innocent should not be accused of the crime without a probe or an investigation.

The minister made it clear that action would only be possible when the administration of Facebook etc would cooperate with the government.

“The FIA and intelligence agencies could go after those persons who have uploaded the blasphemous content in Pakistan but they could not go after those who have uploaded outside Pakistan,” he said. He said that Facebook in the past had denied providing details in a case in the name of freedom of expression.

“I have directed the PTA to talk to the administration of Facebook and other social media providers to block all blasphemous content,” he said. “Similarly, they would have to share the details of the persons who were behind the uploading of such content,” he said. We will take this case to the logical conclusion through contacts with the administration of Facebook, Twitter, Viber etc. “In this regard, an officer in the Pakistani embassy in Washington had been deputed who will play the role of a messenger between the administration of the social networking sites and the FIA.”  Besides this, the services of an international legal counsel have also been hired, he said. “We have also sought help from the US embassy,” he said deploring that the practice was continued for the last many years but no ministry or PTA ever took action

He said that the FIA had shortlisted 11 Pakistanis who were involved in chatting on these blasphemous posts and they were being summoned for interrogation. “But at the moment, they are not culprits. If some Pakistan-based bloggers are found guilty, they would be brought back to the country.”

Responding to a question, the minister said that the committee formed by the government to probe the ‘Dawn leaks’ issue had not submitted its report yet. “The moment the committee will submit its report to the interior ministry, the same would be transferred to the prime minister and a formal announcement would be made. I have been told that the delay in the presentation of the report was due to lack of consensus among the members,” he said. He dispelled the impression that the ministry was sitting on the report.

About the claims of former ambassador to US Hussain Haqqani regarding the issuance of visas to foreigners, he said that his ministry had neither issued a single visa to any suspicious foreigner nor any agent of a foreign agency had been allowed to enter Pakistan under the garb of a diplomat. He said that former interior minister Rehman Malik was right in saying that the issuance of visas powers had been delegated to foreign missions. “But we are making an online system and all visas would be issued under one visa policy.”

While talking about the money-laundering case against MQM founder Altaf Hussain and the Dr Imran Farooq murder case, the minister said that the government was enjoying good relations with British but some legal issues were becoming irritants in these relations. “The MQM founder has committed serious crimes during last two decades and we have made efforts to bring him to book and shared evidence with the British, during the last three and half years in money-laundering and other cases against him. The government would not let die down the issue,” he said.

“Those political groups who don’t believe in Pakistan, why they want to do politics here,” Nisar questioned. He said that Dr Farooq Sattar led MQM and Pak Sar Zameen Party could do politics because they believe in the very existence of Pakistan.

The minister said that the government was fulfilling all legal requirements of Interpol for getting red notices issued against the MQM founder. “We are requesting the UK for mutual legal assistance on money-laundering and hate crime cases,” he said adding that British could not deny this assistance as Pakistan was already providing it details in other cases. “We are requesting the British to allow Pakistani investigators to interrogate some London-based persons in the Dr Imran Farooq murder case.”

Nisar also said that the government has placed the name of the PIA CEO on the exit control list over irregularities in the national flag-carrier. He said that the PIA got a plane on wet lease at the cost of worth $ 8000 per hour while a private airline entered into an agreement with the same company at the cost of $4000 per hour.


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