Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar (Photo credit Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)
The Pakistani government says it’s identified a number of nationals suspected of blasphemy, some living abroad, and is asking Facebook and the FBI to help track them down.
Under the country’s strict laws, insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad carries the death penalty, and interior minister
The news comes just days after prime minister Nawaz Sharif described blasphemy on social media as an ‘unpardonable offence’. "The blasphemous content on social media is a nefarious conspiracy to hurt the religious sentiments of the entire Muslim ummah," he wrote in a statement.
At the same time, the National Assembly agreed to create a committee of parliamentary leaders to monitor social media for blasphemous content.
Nisar says in a statement that Facebook has agreed to help ‘solve the matter through dialogue and consultation’. Eleven people have been identified as having made or commented on blasphemous posts and, he says, the government will seek the extradition of any who are living abroad.
And, he told local reporters yesterday, the government is seeking help from the FBI on the issue – implying that some of these people may be living in the US.
Facebook’s policy is to disclose information on users only where a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty is invoked or another similar formal request has been made.
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And according to its latest Government Requests Report, the Pakistani government made 719 requests for data in the first six months of last year, relating to 1,029 accounts; in around two thirds of these, Facebook complied.
It did, though, exercise censorship in the country during this period, restricting access to 25 pieces of content after legal requests from the Pakistan Telecom Authority; these, it says, allegedly violated local laws prohibiting ‘blasphemy, desecration of the national flag, and condemnation of the country’s independence’.
However, with these latest requests, Pakistan is, clearly, going rather further; and the chances are that if Facebook and the FBI decline to cooperate it will simply block the site, as it’s done before.
Back in 2010, it did this after a row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were posted on the site as part of a competition. There were even allegations that Mark Zuckerberg was guilty of blasphemy himself, with one lawyer filing a legal complaint that could in theory lead to the death penalty being imposed.
Amongst the public, too, there’s increasing anger about blasphemy, with people suspected of it being hounded on social media and reported to the authorities; indeed, 14 people are currently on death row and 19 serving life sentences for charges of blasphemy against Islam.
Nisar is calling for other Muslim countries to be more forceful over this issue; Facebook could have a lot more pressure to come.
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