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Is Twitter enforcing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law?

Breaking News Church & State

Is Twitter enforcing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law?

Three social network users have been informed that their posts violated Pakistan’s “blasphemy law” in official emails from Twitter’s legal department in November and December 2018.

None of the three users were Pakistani citizens or living in Pakistan. They were told that Twitter: “has received official correspondence regarding your twitter account” that content they had posted was “in violation of Pakistan law” and that they may wish to consult legal advice.

Twitter’s legal department stated they were “not taking any action on the reported content at this time”. The three users, two in Canada and one in Australia, are prominent journalists and political activists.

Anthony Furey, an op-ed editor for the Toronto Sun, was informed by Twitter that he had violated sections 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistani penal code, often referred to as “blasphemy” law.

The two most serious are “desecrating the Quran” (section 295-B), which carries a mandatory life sentence, and “defiling the name of Muhammad” (section 295-C) which is officially a capital offence. No executions have yet been carried out in Pakistan, but a number of Christians, previously including Aasia Bibi, have been convicted and held on death row.

Furey’s also supposedly broke this law in a Tweet from 2015 when he posted an image of Muhammed following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack where twelve people were murdered in retaliation for the French publication’s printing of cartoons.

According to Furey it was the first and only time he had used such an image. The Journalist had this comment, “A powerful global tech giant has just told me the Pakistan government has its eye on me for an offence punishable by death.”

Another individual Ensaf Haider, a Saudi political activist in Canada whose husband is serving a 10-year sentence with 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam” also received a Twitter “blasphemy” notice. Her “offending” tweet simply read: “Retweet if you’re against the niqab.”

The niqab is a Muslim garment which covers a women’s face.

“Why is Twitter enforcing Pakistan’s Islamist laws instead of U.S. laws?” said Mohammed Tawhidi, a third individual informed of a “blasphemy” violation. The prominent progressive Islamic scholar had posted a tweet in the wake of a recent terrorist attack in Melbourne, Australia, asking authorities to investigate the attacker’s mosque.

The Pakistani Government has been suggesting the possibility of combatting “blasphemy” online for some time, including seeking extradition and prosecution of individuals outside the country. They have met with ambassadors of 27 Muslim-majority countries with the intention of creating an international agreement to prosecute anyone who posts material online deemed to be blasphemous and pressure Internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter to immediately remove such content.

While Twitter has not acted on the complaints, likely made by the Pakistani government, the forwarding of them along with legal considerations is a chilling warning about the future of free speech and religious freedom on social media platforms.