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Twitter cautions Pakistani rights activists over anti-government tweets

Bukhari was kidnapped earlier this year and Siddiqui had had a close escape from a kidnapping attempt in January.

According to a Reuters report, Twitter has forewarned two Pakistan rights activists for sharing objectionable content on their Twitter pages. Activist Gul Bukhari and Taha Siddiqui have received the warnings. Bukhari was kidnapped in Pakistan for a short while earlier this year and Siddiqui too had had a close shave with a kidnapping attempt. The move indicates the Pakistani government’s collaboration with the Social Media giant Twitter to curb ‘inconvenient’ free speech online.

Recently, Twitter had also suspended the account of a fundamentalist cleric who had warned the government and the judiciary against the release of a Christian woman charged under blasphemy laws. Defending the freedom of speech of the activists, a civil rights advocate said the activists’ tweets were not the same as those of the hate-mongers since they did not promote violence, supplementing that the complaints seemed to be a part of an attack to squelch well-disposed critique within Pakistan.

In its defense, Twitter said that it informs its users about their government’s disapproval regarding the posts shared by them that are in contravention to Pakistan’s laws. It is interesting to note that Twitter has denied all the 156 requests from Pakistan to remove content from January 2012 to December 2017, according to the company’s global Transparency Report. However, the data for 2018 is yet to be published.

Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer, and internet activist claimed that these warnings illustrate how the Pakistani regime wants to regulate the discourse on Social Media platforms.

In an email exchange, Twitter informed activist Taha Siddiqui that it had received complaints about his account’s violations of Pakistani laws from the government and warned him of further action without specifying it. “Pakistani authorities are pressuring Twitter to take ‘legal’ steps against me,” Siddiqui said. He admonished Twitter for being supporters of a repressive regime.

Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawwad Chaudhry stated that his team is in close coordination with Twitter authorities to restrict hate speech and threats on Twitter. However, he was tight-lipped about the warnings given to the activists, including Gul Bukhari.

Bukhari, known to be critical of Pakistan government, said that in one of her email correspondence, Twitter referred to a tweet that criticized the government’s lack of action against a prominent cleric responsible for the warning. The cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi’s account was eventually suspended for threatening the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case.

Recently, Twitter has come under fire with activists from different corners of the world accusing Twitter of regulating and controlling thoughts through its shady inherently biased violations policies.

Even Twitter India hasn’t been immune from this contagion. Last week, Twitter India arbitrarily suspended a TV journalist, Jagrati Shukla’s account for echoing Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat’s position on the stone pelters in Kashmir. It has also randomly suspended or shadow-banned accounts of right-leaning personalities who were either severely critical of Congress leaders or those who made innocuous spoofs on the Congress President Rahul Gandhi.

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