Pakistan summons Dutch envoy; protests ‘blasphemous tweets’

Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo courtesy: Anadolu agency)
Updated 26 October 2018

Pakistan summons Dutch envoy; protests ‘blasphemous tweets’

  • Right-wing politician Geert Wilders posted a series of ‘blasphemous’ comments on his official Twitter account
  • Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua called upon the Dutch government to condemn the controversial tweets

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday summoned the ambassador of the Netherlands to lodge a strong protest against “blasphemous” messages posted on Twitter by Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua, who lodged the protest, informed the ambassador that “such acts cannot be allowed with impunity under the pretext of freedom of expression.” She also conveyed Pakistan’s deep concern and disappointment with the “continued and deliberate malicious attempts of the Dutch parliamentarian to hurt the sentiments of hundreds of millions of Muslims across the world,” and called upon the Dutch government to condemn the controversial tweets and to take action to prevent such incidents from happening again.
The ambassador told Janjua that he will convey the concerns of the government and people of Pakistan to the authorities in the Netherlands, the ministry said.
Earlier this year, Wilders announced a cartoon contest that many Muslims considered blasphemous but canceled it following criticism and protests across the Muslim world. The Dutch government also distanced itself from the politician and his competition, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte reiterating that Wilders, the leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom, is not a member of the government.
“To avoid the risk of victims of Islamic violence, I have decided not to let the cartoon contest go ahead,” Wilders had said in a written statement at the time. He claimed to have received death threats.


Critics cry foul as Pakistan looks to curb coronavirus 'fake news' on social media

Updated 09 July 2020

Critics cry foul as Pakistan looks to curb coronavirus 'fake news' on social media

  • Government sets up committee to prepare new “legal framework” to tackle coronavirus-related misinformation
  • Rights activists fear the new laws will be used to choke freedom of speech

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior minister said on Thursday the government planned to introduce new laws to curb coronavirus misinformation on social media platforms in a move that has stoked fears authorities will use the additional powers to choke freedom of speech and chill dissent.
On Wednesday, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), a top federal body set up to oversee the government’s coronavirus mitigation efforts, set up a committee under the chairmanship of the interior minister to prepare a legal framework to help the government deal with coronavirus-related “fake news” on social media platforms.
Islamabad has previously struggled to regulate online content mostly by blocking or asking social media companies to remove blasphemous material and other posts that violate the country’s religious and cultural norms and laws or hurt national security interests.
In February, the government approved, and then rolled back, new rules to regulate cyberspace after opponents said they could be used to stifle dissent. Social media companies have also largely shunned obliging to help law enforcement agencies access data and remove online content deemed unlawful.
“Is the government a fool?” the interior minister said to Arab News on Thursday when asked if the NCOC had set up the new committee on the pretext of curtailing free speech or criticism of the government’s coronavirus mitigation policies. “If somebody asks me to suppress social media, I’ll straightaway say that I can’t do it.”
However, he said, the government was resolved to find ways to prevent the flow of false information regarding the pandemic.
These efforts, rights activists say, would allow the government to use the pandemic as an “excuse” to suppress freedom of speech.
“Social media companies have themselves been taking down disinformation and propaganda regarding COVID-19 since such posts go against their community standards,” Usama Khilji, director of Pakistani digital rights group Bolo Bhi, told Arab News, urging the government to improve coordination with social media giants like Twitter and Facebook in order to have inaccurate information removed instead of enacting new “draconian rules.”
Last month, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority issued an advisory to local media houses instructing them not to air coronavirus-related content that was “not based on ground realities” and was likely to create “unnecessary panic.” 
The advisory was seen as a warning to critics of the government’s efforts to fight growing rates of infection.
“If the government wants to counter online disinformation, it can do it by releasing authentic information instead of coercing journalists and media houses,” Iqbal Khattak, who represents Reporters Without Borders in Pakistan, told Arab News. “It must immediately drop its plan to enact new social media rules since we already know its objective is to undermine freedom of expression.”