Ten arrested for spreading misinformation, derailing polio campaign in Pakistan’s northwest

Man posting fake video on social media against polio vaccine arrested (Photo Courtesy: APP)
Updated 24 April 2019

Ten arrested for spreading misinformation, derailing polio campaign in Pakistan’s northwest

  • Two policemen assigned to protect vaccination teams shot dead by unidentified gunmen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
  • Panic spread across the province on Monday due to false reports several schoolchildren had fainted after being administered polio drops

PESHAWAR: Ten people have been arrested in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province for trying to derail an ongoing anti-polio drive with a concerted misinformation campaign, police said on Wednesday, as two policemen assigned to protect polio teams were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the last two days.
Along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, Pakistan is one of the only three countries where complete polio eradication has not yet been achieved, but case numbers are at the lowest level ever, with only eight cases reported in 2019. The country’s success follows an intense program based around vaccinating vulnerable children. 
On Monday, the program was thrown into jeopardy as panic spread across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province due to reports that hundreds of schoolchildren had to be rushed to health facilities apparently after being administered polio vaccine drops. It emerged the following day that parents had acted on rumors spread over community and mosque loudspeakers, and reported by mainstream and social media and shared on WhatsApp.
In Mashokhel, where the rumor apparently originated, a local health unit was set on fire by rioters, while a terrified public overwhelmed streets and hospitals across the province.
“Police have enhanced patrolling in the city to ensure smooth flow of the campaign,” Muhammad Ilyas, a spokesman for Peshawar police, told Arab News. “More arrests are expected as police raids continue in different localities of the city.”
Ilyas said among the ten people arrested was Nazar Muhammad who first spread misinformation about the anti-polio drive on Monday and was seen in viral social media videos coaxing children to pretend to fall ill after being administered polio drops. In other videos that also went viral, he was seen claiming that many children had fainted after being vaccinated.
Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s office urged the country’s telecoms regulator to take action against misinformation spread on social media discouraging vaccination against polio and other diseases.
Separately last month, Facebook Inc, which along with other social media companies has faced growing pressure over spurious content spread on its platform, announced it would remove user groups and pages that contained misinformation about vaccinations. Online video sharing site YouTube has also said it would take action to stop advertising revenue to channels promoting anti-vaccination content.
On Monday, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Dr. Hisham Inamullah Khan told reporters that complaints of headaches, nausea and abdominal pain by children were “psychological and triggered by panic” caused by the misinformation campaign and rumors.
Babar bin Atta, the prime minister’s focal person on polio eradication, told Arab News the anti-polio drive was continuing throughout the province despite the misinformation campaign and the hunt was on to identify culprits behind Monday’s “nasty propaganda.”
“Not a single child at any hospital has been found to be affected [by the polio drops],” Atta said, adding that all of the children brought to hospitals were quickly discharged because they were in stable condition.
A nation-wide anti-polio campaign was kicked off in Pakistan on Monday, targeting 39 million children in all four provinces, including Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“The panic was aimed at jeopardizing the polio eradication drive to put our children at risk but the perpetrators will be taken to task,” Atta said. “What they have done is a criminal act.”
Shehzad Kaukab, a spokesman for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police, said an assistant sub-Inspector Imran (last name not given) had been killed in the Bannu district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while police constable Zafar Khan was killed in the province’s Bunner area.
No group has accepted responsibility for the killings. Many extremists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the polio campaign, saying it is used to sterilize Muslims. 


South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players

Updated 23 January 2021

South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players

  • South Africa's Du Plessis says bubble life is not sustainable for players
  • The South African player beleives Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi can pose problems for his team

ISLAMABAD: South African cricketer Faf du Plessis believes spending months in a bio-secure bubble could soon become a major challenge for players.

“We understand that this is a very tough season and a tough challenge for a lot of people out there, but if it’s back-to-back-to-back bubble life, things would become a big challenge,” du Plessis said during a virtual news conference on Saturday.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, cricketers have to adhere to strict procedures for an international series. In countries like Pakistan, international games are being played in empty stadiums and players' movement confined to just their hotel and stadiums.

Du Plessis is one of those South African cricketers, along with captain Quinton de Kock, to have experienced life in a bubble over the last few months. He played in the Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates and home series against Sri Lanka. Now he has a two-test series in Pakistan, starting Tuesday in Karachi, followed by the second test at Rawalpindi.

“The main priority is to play cricket, to be out there doing what we love instead of being at home … so I think that still remains the most important thing. But I think there would definitely come a point where players would struggle with this (bubble)," du Plessis said.

“If you look at a calendar of the last eight months, you’re looking at about four or five months in a bubble, which is a lot. For some of us (being) without family, it can get challenging. Right now, I’m still in a good place. I’m still feeling really motivated and driven, but I can only speak for myself.

“I don’t think it’s possible to continue from bubble to bubble to bubble, I’ve seen and heard a lot of players talk about it. I don’t think it’s sustainable.”

The South African team practiced at the National Stadium -- the venue for the test opener -- for the first time on Saturday. Before that, the visitors had been practicing at a stadium close to the team hotel for the last four days where they played intra-squad matches.

“For now, (I'm) enjoying the four walls of my room and then the pitch outside where we can get to do what we love,” du Plessis said.

The 36-year-old du Plessis, who has appeared in 67 test matches for South Africa with a batting average topping 40, will be playing his first test in Pakistan since making his debut against Australia in 2012. Pakistan last hosted South Africa in 2007. In 2009 international cricket’s doors were shut on Pakistan after an attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team bus at Lahore.

Du Plessis has played seven test matches against Pakistan that included two in the UAE and five in South Africa.

Du Plessis is South Africa’s most experienced player touring Pakistan, but wasn’t sure what type of wickets will be prepared for the two tests.

“I think that’s possibly the biggest thing that we are unsure about,” he said.

“As a team we try to prepare for everything and anything, overprepare, spin conditions, reverse swinging ball … if I have to call it, I probably said I think that wickets will be a bit more subcontinent like than it used to be back then (in 2007), so spinners would probably be more a little bit more in the game.”

Du Plessis has picked fit-again Pakistan all-format captain Babar Azam and fast bowler Shaheen Afridi as the two players who could pose problems for the tourists. Babar has regained fitness from a fractured thumb — in his absence Pakistan lost both the Twenty20 and test series in New Zealand.

“Obviously, having Babar back is massive for them,” du Plessis said.

“Afridi has been getting a lot of wickets, so probably someone like him would be pretty dangerous.”