With big red stamp, Pakistan government portal singles out journalists and ‘fake news’

A combination picture shows screengrabs of tweets by the Pakistan government's @FakeNews_Buster Twitter handle, run by the ministry of information (AN photo)
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Updated 30 September 2020

With big red stamp, Pakistan government portal singles out journalists and ‘fake news’

  • Official at information ministry who runs @FakeNews_Buster Twitter account says the page “simply tells people the government’s viewpoint”
  • Rights activists say government has picked up the term ‘fake news’ from Trump who routinely uses it to discredit journalists and play down stories against him 

ISLAMABAD: Suriya Jamal is the director-general of the cyber-wing of Pakistan’s Ministry of Information. Every day she ensures that Internet and social media monitoring reports are prepared for senior officials, Internet campaigns are designed for national events and her team provides seamless IT and communications services support to the ministry and its attached organs.
Since October 2018, however, Jamal’s job has had a new component: running the ministry of information’s @FakeNews_Buster account on Twitter that is meant to highlight articles the government considers to be ‘fake news’, including one in July by Arab News.
Each post on the @FakeNews_Buster Twitter account carries a big red label reading “FAKE NEWS” in English and a line saying: “Disseminating #FakeNews is not only unethical and illegal but it is also disservice to the nation. It is the responsibility of everyone to reject irresponsible behavior. Reject #FakeNews.”
Digital rights activists and journalists told Arab News the venture, which routinely singles out individual journalists, fits a pattern of creating alternative realities meant to sow confusion and is part of the government’s sweeping efforts to dismiss real news it does not like and intimidate journalists who write or speak critically of its policies.
Since his campaign to run for US president, Donald Trump has popularized the term ‘fake news,’ invoking it to undermine opponents, rally his supporters and discredit journalists who aggressively investigated his campaign and now his presidency.
Emboldened by Trump, many authoritarian and populist leaders around the world have seized on the phrase ‘fake news’ as a tool to attack critics.
Pakistan too has taken a shine to the concept.

In July this year, the government said it was preparing new laws to curb coronavirus-related ‘fake news’ on social media platforms in a move that has stoked fears authorities might use the additional powers to choke freedom of speech and chill dissent.
It was not immediately clear what criteria the Pakistani ministry of information applies in its effort to identify what it considers to be ‘fake news,’ and Jamal declined to answer questions beyond that the @FakeNews_Buster account labeled stories as ‘fake’ after seeking information and ‘clarifications’ from relevant government departments and officials.
“We simply tell people about the government’s viewpoint,” she said. “How is this harassment?”
In a joint statement last month, a group of Pakistani women journalists demanded action by the government against social media attacks, including campaigns to accuse them of peddling ‘fake news’ for covering the government’s policies critically.
“The online attacks are instigated by government officials and then amplified by a large number of Twitter accounts, which declare their affiliation to the ruling party,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a petition last week.
Azhar Mashwani, an adviser on digital media to the chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, denied government social media accounts were being used to harass journalists or suppress freedom of the press.
The prime minister, he said, had conveyed “clear instructions” through the ministry of information to all government departments to issue rebuttals against ‘fake news’ and take legal action. “But no department has initiated any action so far,” he told Arab News.
“We bring facts to the people,” he added.
In one of many examples where Mashwani has taken to Twitter to accuse journalists of peddling ‘fake news,’ he accused a reporter at Pakistan’s daily Dawn newspaper last month of “twisting and altering” his remarks in a WhatsApp interview for a story about the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf party’s use of social media to project a ‘positive’ image of Pakistan.
The reporter published a complete transcript of the conversation, showing that she had quoted Mashwani verbatim. But he continued to post on Twitter saying what was published was a “total misrepresentation.”

In an article last week, the website for Pakistan’s Geo News channel fact-checked a number of news stories that the @FakeNews_Buster account and government representatives had labeled as ‘fake’ on social media, including an Arab News report published on July 7 about the centuries-old Ram Mandir temple in Islamabad where Hindus are no longer allowed to pray.

In response to the post by @FakeNews_Buster, Arab News sent a letter to information minister Shibli Faraz, urging the ministry to take down the tweet and explaining the multiple rounds of fact-checking and editing that the story had gone through.
The ministry acknowledged receiving the letter, but had not taken action to remove the post, Baker Atyani, Asia bureau chief for Arab News, said.
“The story was thoroughly investigated, checked, and cross-checked by senior editors of Arab News but unfortunately we didn’t hear back from the ministry or the information minister,” he said. “We have asked in our letter that the tweet should be taken down and the ministry should clarify that the Arab News story was accurate.”
Atyani said Arab News had urged the ministry to take up such concerns with the organization directly, rather than targeting its reporters and editors on social media.
“We believe these kinds of unfortunate claims not only undermine our credibility,” he said, “but also could put the lives of our team who worked on the story at risk.”
When Arab News asked Jamal about the @FakeNews_Buster tweet about its story, she declined comment, saying “Let me check.”
“Whenever I rebut a story, I do it with facts, and this is not harassment of journalists,” Dr. Arsalan Khalid, the prime minister’s focal person on digital media, told Arab News when asked about attacks on journalists by government-affiliated social media accounts. “Ideally when you label a news as fake news, you will have to provide the details through documents or videos and nobody should get offended over it. If it is fake news, it is fake news.”
Farieha Azizi, a digital rights activist who heads Bolo Bhi, said the government used accounts like @FakeNews_Buster to beat back media scrutiny and browbeat reporters, and the strategy to attack individuals, rather than organizations, on social media was a deliberate one.
“I’m not saying that you should start targeting the organizations, but the institutions have a mechanism and people to respond,” she said. “But here you’re singling out individuals deliberately, then multiple accounts start targeting them and give threats only because there was a difference of opinion, or an opinion which they [government and its supporters] don’t like.”
“If the government wants to clarify a news item, it should do it from official sources only,” Aziz added, saying the Pakistan government had picked up the term ‘fake news’ from Trump who routinely used it to discredit journalists and play down stories against him.
Shahzada Zulfiqar, president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists [PFUJ], said the government was “intentionally” using social media platforms to confuse the public and discredit journalists it did not agree with.
He said government representatives used social media to “incite the public, their [government’s] supporters and followers” to attack and abuse journalists by using ‘fake news’ as a tool.
“This is certainly a condemnable act,” Zulfiqar said, “and the government must ensure freedom of press in the country instead of working against it.”
Imran Ghazali, the head of the newly established Digital Media Wing, said he was working to get all official accounts verified so no one could claim to speak in the government’s name and an ‘authentic and data-driven’ flow of information could be maintained on social media.
“Once it is done,” he said, “many of the issues will stand resolved automatically.”

Pakistan’s parliament summoned in midst of crisis over former PM Khan 

Updated 34 min 15 sec ago

Pakistan’s parliament summoned in midst of crisis over former PM Khan 

  • Khan’s supporters have clashed with police several times over recent days during his court appearances
  • Speaker says ruling coalition called for parliament to “take important decisions” to enforce state’s writ

ISLAMABAD, March 21 : Pakistan’s parliament is to meet in a special joint session on Wednesday to “take important decisions” to enforce the state’s authority, media reported, in the midst of a crisis over anti-government defiance by former Prime Minister Imran Khan. 

Former cricket star Khan was prime minister from 2018 until 2022, when he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote. Since then, he has been demanding a new election and holding protests across the country to press his case. 

His supporters have clashed with police several times over recent days as authorities try to force him to appear in court in connection with various cases brought against him. 

The office of the speaker of parliament, in calling Wednesday’s joint session, did not give a reason but the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said the ruling coalition had called for parliament to “take important decisions” to ensure the writ of the state was enforced. 

The APP, reporting on a meeting attended by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his cabinet, cited the participants as saying Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was not a political party but “rather a gang of militants,” and its “enmity against the state” could not be tolerated. 

Sharif has rejected Khan’s demand for a new election saying it would be held as scheduled later this year. 

Parliament will meet in the capital, Islamabad, as Khan’s supporters gather for his latest rally in the eastern city of Lahore. 

The clashes between Khan’s supporters and the security forces have brought a new round of political chaos to the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people, which is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis. 

Khan says the government and the powerful military are trying to stop him from contesting the next election, scheduled for November. If convicted in a case, Khan could face disqualification from the polls. 

Both the government and military deny this. 

Police have arrested hundreds of Khan’s supporters in raids in recent days in response to the clashes. 

Gunmen slay 11 in northwest Pakistan ‘family feud’ – police

Updated 21 March 2023

Gunmen slay 11 in northwest Pakistan ‘family feud’ – police

  • Inter-family feuds are common in Pakistan, particularly in northwestern region
  • Police official says “up to five people opened fire” on a vehicle carrying 11 people

PESHAWAR: Gunmen killed 11 people including a prominent local politician in northwest Pakistan, police said Tuesday, an ambush blamed on a decades-long vendetta between families.

Inter-family feuds are common in Pakistan, but in the mountainous northwestern region where communities abide by traditional tribal honor codes they can be particularly protracted and violent.

Police said 42-year-old Atif Munsif Khan, leader of a district council in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was killed on Monday night in the town of Havelian, 33 kilometers (20 miles) north of Islamabad.

District police official Omar Tufail told AFP that “up to five people opened fire from two sides” on a vehicle carrying Khan and 10 others, including bodyguards and a police escort, “killing them all on the spot.”

“The vehicle caught fire as a result and all on board were burned alive and the charred bodies are now beyond recognition,” he said.

Tufail said the Khan family registered a police complaint “blaming the assassination on their rivals” in a feud “said to be almost five decades old,” which also claimed the life of Khan’s father and grandfather.

“Dozens of people from both sides have been killed as a result of this family feud so far,” he added.

Another local senior police official, Sajid Tanoli, confirmed the incident and ruled out the involvement of militant groups such as the Pakistan Taliban which have long thrived in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Khan was a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, led by former prime minister Imran Khan, although the men were not related.

Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to drop ‘overboard’ terrorism charges against ex-PM’s supporters

Updated 21 March 2023

Human Rights Watch urges Pakistan to drop ‘overboard’ terrorism charges against ex-PM’s supporters

  • Police registered terrorism cases against over a dozen members of ex-PM Khan’s party over Saturday’s clashes
  • Human Rights Watch urges police to respect right to peaceful assembly, keep unlawful violence in check

ISLAMABAD: The Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed worry on Tuesday over the use of “overboard” terrorism charges by the government against former prime minister Imran Khan’s supporters, a few days after his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party supporters clashed with police in Pakistan’s capital.

Islamabad police on Sunday registered a terrorism case against more than a dozen members of Khan’s party for vandalism at the capital’s judicial complex. Clashes erupted on Saturday when the former prime minister arrived for a hearing in Islamabad in a case relating to the sale of state gifts while Khan was prime minister. Khan faces a slew of cases across the country, with charges against him ranging from murder to sedition, which carries the death penalty in Pakistan.

Punjab police and the caretaker provincial government have both accused Khan’s supporters of pelting stones and hurling petrol bombs at law enforcers. Khan denies the allegations and insists the Shehbaz Sharif-led ruling coalition government wants to kill him.

In its statement, the HRW urged Pakistan to “appropriately prosecute” any of the former prime minister’s supporters who have engaged in unlawful acts of violence, uphold the right to peaceful protest, and refrain from unlawful use of force.

“The use of Pakistan’s vague and overbroad anti-terrorism provisions against opposition protesters is very worrying,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “If the authorities believe that Khan’s or his supporters’ actions have resulted in violence or constituted a real threat to public safety, they should be charged under the appropriate laws.”

Gossman stressed on the need for both sides to respect the rule of law and human rights and practice restraint. “It is vitally important for the police to respect the right to peaceful assembly while holding those responsible for unlawful violence to account,” she added.

Separately, Khan wrote to Pakistan’s chief justice on Monday and urged him to conduct an investigation into Saturday’s clash with law enforcers and the earlier police raid on his Lahore residence. According to a copy of the letter seen by Arab News, Khan stated that police attacked his party’s supporters when he had arrived at the Islamabad judicial complex “without any provocation.”

“I realized something was amiss and that it was not my arrest that was being planned but my assassination,” Khan wrote.

“In view of the continuing threats to my life and the assault on my home, I would request you to order a proper investigation into these events,” he added.

These actions have never happened before to anyone let alone a former Prime Minister and leader of the largest political party in Pakistan.”

On Monday night, PM Sharif chaired a meeting of the coalition government’s parties. In a press statement after meeteing, the government accused Khan’s party supporters of attacking law enforcers and vowed to take stern action against them.

“Attacks on officers and personnel of state institutions by violently trained gangs of banned organizations is very alarming,” the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) said in a statement.

The police in Pakistan have used abusive measures in the escalating confrontation between police and Imran Khan’s supporters, Human Rights Watch said today.

They have charged protesters with batons and detained them under sweeping counter-terrorism laws. The authorities should appropriately prosecute any of the former prime minister’s supporters who have engaged in unlawful acts of violence, uphold the right to peaceful protest, and refrain from the unlawful use of force.

“The use of Pakistan’s vague and overbroad anti-terrorism provisions against opposition protesters is very worrying,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “If the authorities believe that Khan’s or his supporters’ actions have resulted in violence or constituted a real threat to public safety, they should be charged under the appropriate laws.”

All sides should display restraint and respect for human rights and the rule of law,” Gossman said. “It is vitally important for the police to respect the right to peaceful assembly while holding those responsible for unlawful violence to account.”

‘Magical, light-hearted’: Three Pakistani TV dramas to watch out for this Ramadan

Updated 8 min 51 sec ago

‘Magical, light-hearted’: Three Pakistani TV dramas to watch out for this Ramadan

  • Ramadan shows have a huge audience, all eyes are set on them, says Pakistani actor Hamza Sohail
  • One of the shows, ‘Chand Tara’, features real-life celebrity couple Ayeza Khan, Danish Taimoor in leading roles

KARACHI: With only a couple of days left till the holy month of Ramadan kicks off, Pakistani writers and actors said on Monday that viewers will be enthralled by “light-hearted” TV dramas that are produced specially for the holy month.

Muslims in Pakistan and around the world fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food and drink. Over the past couple of years, Pakistan’s showbiz industry has provided millions of viewers across the country with entertainment in the form of avidly watched television game shows and Ramadan-themed TV shows.

This year is no different, as at least three projects, particularly produced for the holy month, are going to be aired on TV to give the audience a break from the regular TV dramas that revolve around tragic topics such as family disputes, extra-marital affairs, divorce, and others.

Arab News spoke to a few writers and actors to find out more about these dramas.

‘Chand Tara’


A post shared by Ayeza Khan (@ayezakhan.ak)

Starring real-life celebrity couple Ayeza Khan and Danish Taimoor, Chand Tara is written by Saima Akram Chaudhry, a seasoned writer who has written critically acclaimed Ramadan TV dramas such as Suno Chanda, Suno Chanda 2, Hum Tum, and Ishq Jalebi.

“My Ramadan plays are family-oriented, feature family members of all age groups, and encourage a joint family system,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

Chaudhry said she watched dramas on Pakistan Television (PTV) with her family, hence she ensures her dramas can be enjoyed by families and are filled with messages at the same time.

“The joint family system has its pros and cons. The system isn’t bad but we need to give space to people,” she said. “This is the central theme of Chand Tara in addition to small messages in every episode.”

Light-hearted plays aired during Ramadan get more traction compared to the rest of the year, Chaudhry said, adding that viewers follow them regularly as they air each day.

“It’s easier to convey messages in a light-hearted way,” she explained.

Chaudhry revealed that she has tweaked a few things in the narrative of Chand Tara after she was criticized for her past projects. The male and female lead in the play are not related to each other, Chaudhry said, and their love story doesn’t start with fights.

Directed by Danish Nawaz and produced by Momina Duraid, Chand Tara also stars Rehan Sheikh and Saba Faisal in prominent roles.

‘Fairy Tale’

One of the much-anticipated comedy plays to be aired this Ramazan is Fairy Tale, written by Saira Majeed and directed by Ali Hassan.

“It’s a beautifully written story on how destiny plays its cards not just in love, but in every aspect of your life. The idea here is to take viewers on a magical, dreamy, light-hearted, and entertaining ride. Hence, a ‘fairy tale’,” actor Hamza Sohail, who stars as entrepreneur Farjaad Khan in the play, told Arab News on Monday.

“There’s no denying the fact that Ramadan shows have a huge audience and all eyes are set on them.”

Sohail, who plays the role of the male lead in Fairy Tale, told Arab News he is “excited” to showcase his work, hoping to deliver good family entertainment to viewers.

Sohail stars opposite actress Sehar Khan, while the drama has an ensemble cast that includes actors Ali Safina, Saleem Sheikh, Adnan Raza Mir, and Salma Hasan.

‘Rukh Ma Roshan’


A post shared by Muneeb Butt (@muneeb_butt)

Adding to the list of Ramadan-special plays is also Rukh Ma Roshan, a story that revolves around a couple and stars Pakistani actors Muneeb Butt and Komal Meer.

“The play is about a couple who keep fighting with each other. They have funny chemistry with each other. It’s romantic, sweet, and innocent,” Butt told Arab News on Tuesday.

“It’s a situational comedy that will run during Ramadan. Its content is enjoyable for viewers since it is not the typical saas-bahu (daughter-in-law, mother-in-law) misery. It has very light content that people usually like to watch during Ramadan. Audiences will really like the fresh feel it [offers].”

The plot of Rukh Ma Roshan incorporates some issues that the two lead characters resolve together, which brings them closer to each other.

In addition to Butt and Meer, the play also features veteran actresses Shamim Hilaly and Zainab Qayyum in key roles.

IMF says was not consulted on Pakistan’s petrol subsidy plan — media

Updated 21 March 2023

IMF says was not consulted on Pakistan’s petrol subsidy plan — media

  • Pakistan’s PM last week announced a petrol subsidy of Rs50 per liter for low-income people
  • Staff agreement to follow once “few remaining points” are closed, says IMF’s resident representative

ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) resident representative for Pakistan said on Monday that the Fund was not consulted on the government’s recent move to announce a fuel subsidy of Rs.50 per liter, adding that it is seeking “greater details” on the scheme, Bloomberg reported.

Pakistan has hiked taxes, shifted to a market-based exchange rate, and increased fuel prices to revive a stalled $6.5 billion IMF loan program as the prospect of default looms large over the South Asian country. As Pakistan’s currency weakened and its reserves dipped to historic lows over the past couple of months, inflation more than doubled to 31.5 percent in February this year, making it difficult for low-income Pakistanis to make ends meet.

Despite Pakistan’s efforts to seek a bailout program from the international lender, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday announced a “petroleum relief package” for low-income people. The announcement of the relief package came days after the government increased the petrol price by Rs5 per liter, taking it to Rs272 per liter.

“Ruiz said the lender wasn’t consulted on the government’s plan to raise fuel prices for wealthier motorist to finance a subsidy for lower-income people,” Bloomberg said in a report.

“Fund staff are seeking greater details on the scheme in terms of its operation, cost, targeting, protections against fraud and abuse, and offsetting measures, and will carefully discuss these elements with the authorities,” Bloomberg quoted her as saying.

On the staff-level agreement, Ruiz said Islamabad had made “substantial progress” toward meeting policy commitments.

“A staff-level agreement will follow once the few remaining points are closed,” she told Bloomberg. “Ensuring there is sufficient financing to support the authorities in the implementation of their policy agenda is the paramount priority.”

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the IMF agreement has been delayed as the Fund wanted to see “friendly countries” finalize commitments they made to help Pakistan shore up its reserves before signing off on the bailout package.