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Pakistan’s National assembly on Tuesday passed a resolution to condemn blasphemous content on social media. Earlier country’s Senate passed a similar resolution. Punjab assembly also passed as similar resolution. Many in the media and civil society wonder how come suddenly Pakistan’s political elite are possessed by concerns on blasphemy. And who these ‘shadowy blasphemers’ are against whom the whole country of 97% devout conservative Muslims is being inflamed.

Many in the media and civil society wonder how come suddenly Pakistan’s political elite are possessed by concerns on blasphemy. And who these ‘shadowy blasphemers’ are against whom the whole country of 97% devout conservative Muslims is being inflamed.

PML-N’s lawmaker, and Prime Minister’s son in law, Captain (retd) Muhammad Safdar demanded, in the most emotional manner, that the resolution of blocking blasphemous social pages should be passed. Captain Safdar is married to Maryam Nawaz; who is often tipped to be the “heir apparent” to Prime Minister. It is widely believed that PM Nawaz Sharif wants to bequeath his political power to Maryam. Many inside PMLN see her as the next Prime Minister. Political opponents and critics wonder how will all this be possible given the controversy surrounding her role in the Panama Case. Decision in the Panama case is expected any day and political pundits, realizing the weakness of Pakistani judiciary, nevertheless wonder what kind of decision will the judges write that will totally exonerate the ruling family in a case that looks so obvious to most who watched the proceedings in the supreme court.

 

Captain Safdar is married to Maryam Nawaz; who is often tipped to be the “heir apparent” to Prime Minister. It is widely believed that PM Nawaz Sharif wants to bequeath his political power to Maryam. Many inside PMLN see her as the next Prime Minister.
The idea of blocking blasphemous content has been floating in air, ever since few bloggers were picked up, apparently by state agencies, and were blamed, ironically through social media sites, for being involved in running blasphemous sites – but several weeks have passed and nothing was practically done to remove those pages – till the matter was taken up by Islamabad High Court. Bloggers were later released, as mysteriously as they are picked up, without being charged of any offense. Some of them have already left Pakistan.
Pakistan’s security agencies, aligned with the army, took the bad name in the episode as it was commonly believed that state agencies like ISI had picked up the bloggers. However nothing much was done by the elected government to explain the strange situation. Bloggers after emerging back at their homes never uttered a word as to who had picked up or detained them. One of them, Waqas Goraya, who is now living in Europe, has appeared on media claiming that he was badly tortured. But he too did not explain much.
So who had made those pages, to this point remains a mystery. Difficult questions arise: If the arrested bloggers were responsible then why were they released without any criminal indictments. 
 Bloggers after being released denied that they had anything to do with the blasphemous pages. And many in media, citing sources in law enforcement agencies, believe that the actual issue was different. The so called bloggers, according to sources, were involved in other clandestine activities, equally detestable, but perhaps not blasphemy.
Recently Ansar Abbassi, prominent media personality, and someone widely respected by conservative majority in the country, appeared in Dunya News Program, with TV Anchor, Moeed Pirzada and while he took a strong position against the blasphemous content on social media, Abbassi did admit that even he is not sure if the bloggers arrested were indeed linked with blasphemy. So who had made those pages, to this point remains a mystery. Difficult questions arise: If the arrested bloggers were responsible then why were they released without any criminal indictments. And if criminal indictments were not possible or desirable then what is the basis of this political debate against whole social media that consists of millions of Pakistanis?
One motive may be to suppress and frighten country’s powerful social media that remains politically alive with all kinds of criticism and gossip mills. 
 But the issue has apparently taken a totally new turn when a man, believed to be son in law of Maulana Aziz of Red Mosque of Islamabad (Lal Masjid) made a petition in the court of Justice Shaukat Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court. Judge then called into attendance top officials of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and Ministry of Interior and demanded action against the blasphemous sites. Apparently some sites have been blocked since then and police cases (First Investigation Reports, FIR) have been registered. But still there is no clarity as to who made the blasphemous pages and the FIRs were registered against unknown blasphemers.
 Many therefore wonder that once again religion is being exploited in the larger political theatre with ulterior motives. One motive may be to suppress and frighten country’s powerful social media that remains politically alive with all kinds of criticism and gossip mills. Most of the electronic media in the country, once considered ferocioulsy free, has been tamed through a combination of political bribes, lucrative advertisement campaigns, threats and overzealous use of regulatory body like PEMRA. If the court exonerates the Sharif family, then the strongest criticism will come from hundreds and thousands of young bloggers sitting on social media.

Punjab assembly has also passed a resolution to remove all the blasphemous content which is seen on various media platforms.

On Monday, some members present at the National Assembly surprised all by demanding that a “blanket ban” should be put on social media to put an end to the matter for once and for all.

“Blanket ban” on Social Media

The National Assembly also witnessed an emotional speech made by the prime minister’s son-in-law. He explained that he was impressed by the “firm” decision taken by the court judge, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, regarding the issue.

Read more: Pakistan’s ECL to have names of the Social Media Blasphemers

However, he also highlighted that blasphemous content was still found on the social media pages and the cyber crime act could not be seen in effect. “Why are we being forced to lay our lives on the issue? Why does the PTA not impose a ban on social media? This is going to lead the country towards anarchy,” Safdar questioned.

In the present controversy courts, government ministers and politicians are spitting fire against social media instead of treating the whole episode as a criminal act by some unscrupulous characters that need to be punished. Impression therefore deepens that religious feelings of the masses are being exploited to suppress voices of dissent on social media. Stage is being set before the court decision in Panama, expected any day.

Earlier, the Islamabad High Court had ordered that social media blasphemers must be fully accounted for and the names of the guilty should be added to the Exit Control List (ECL).

Most of the electronic media in the country, once considered ferocioulsy free, has been tamed through a combination of political bribes, lucrative advertisement campaigns, threats and overzealous use of regulatory body like PEMRA.

During Pakistan People’s Party’s rule, in 2009, a divisional court judge, in Bahawalpur, had even ordered to block search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN but fortunately, the issue was resolved when media pointed out the worthy judge had failed to  distinguish between “websites” and “search engines”. In the present controversy courts, government ministers and politicians are spitting fire against social media instead of treating the whole episode as a criminal act by some unscrupulous characters that need to be punished. Impression therefore deepens that religious feelings of the masses are being exploited to suppress voices of dissent on social media. Stage is being set before the court decision in Panama, expected any day.

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