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Four arrested in Govt.’s crackdown: What is hate speech?


News Analysis |

The police have arrested four persons who allegedly uploaded some defamatory material against the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan. According to police, these suspects were identified as Maulana Abdul Jabbar, Hanzala, Waqas, and Abdul Rauf. The suspects wanted to spread unrest in the country, police added. It is important to recall here that the country has seen sectarian violence to a great extent in recent years.

Different groups have been using religion to seek their political interests. The government has recently decided to start a crackdown against those involved in the spread of hate speech and incitement to violence. Federal Minister for Information Mr. Fawad Chaudhary made it clear that the time has come when the state has to decide its future course of actions and hate and violence are unacceptable in any way.

It is important to note that as the government has decided to start a crackdown against the hate speech and incitement to violence some critics point out some important questions as to what constitutes hate speech.

According to media reports, the FIR has been registered on the complaint of a police official against six named and 40-45 unidentified people. Four out of the six named persons have been arrested. According to the FIR, the nominated persons were spreading “sectarianism and bigotry” along with the main accused and raising slogans against the government.

It merits mentioning here that the PTI government has taken some very courageous steps to ensure that nobody in the country exploits public sentiments in the name of religion. The most important decision was the arrest of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan Chief Mr. Khadim Rizvi for fueling the protests by inciting followers and making hate speeches targeting state institutions.

Furthermore, according to the FIR, two of the suspects recorded videos of the alleged hate speech through their mobile phones and later uploaded them onto Facebook and other social media.

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The case against the nominated suspects has been registered under Sections 500 (defamation), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 109 (abetment with an accused) of the Pakistan Penal Code, 14 and 16 of the Maintenance of Public Order, and 3/6 of the Punjab Sound Systems (Regulation) Ordinance, 2015.

It is important to note that as the government has decided to start a crackdown against the hate speech and incitement to violence some critics point out some important questions as to what constitutes hate speech. How is hate speech different from political dissent or satire? Opposition parties expressed mixed reactions over the government’s decision since it was feared that the government may use the law against political opponents.

Pakistan’s history is full of cases where people exploited religious feelings of masses for their political agendas and ended up in losses of lives.

But Federal Minister for Information made it clear in a live Talk show with a prominent anchorperson Dr. Moeed Pirzada at GNN that the implementation of the law is intended to ensure a society without violence and hatred and the government has no intentions to target their political rivals. Mr. Chaudhary also quoted the example of Pashtun Protection Movement (PTM), its agenda and narrative against the security institutions of the country. The minister said, “We can’t allow this under the cover of freedom of expression.”

Experts suggest that the government needs to remain very careful while lodging cases against the suspects since one single case of political nature may lead to the political maelstrom. However, it is lauded at the same time that the government is being vigilant since there is a visible presence of anti-Pakistan elements on social media where narratives are being shaped against the armed forces and spy agencies of Pakistan.

The recent arrest of four people has also been portrayed by these elements as a blow at freedom of speech and curbing the anti-government voices. Whereas, FIR clearly has mentioned that the primary suspect incited the audience’s religious emotions by issuing statements of a sectarian nature and provoked them against the Government.

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What needs attention here is, it is not “against government” stance that led to the arrest but using religious sentiments and emotions. Pakistan’s history is full of cases where people exploited religious feelings of masses for their political agendas and ended up in losses of lives. As once incited on such basis, people tend to forget analyzing situations rationally.