PAKISTAN: Big Brother Strikes Again?

HAIG TER-GHEVONDIAN WRITES – Since the controversial imam Abdul Aziz’s refusal to openly denounce the murder of 134 children in the Peshawar Army School in Pakistan by the Taliban, the Pakistani Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has begun cracking down on terrorist propaganda on social media. A new cyber-crime bill introduced to the Pakistani Parliament has stirred debate among social activists in Pakistan.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act was drafted in response to the Peshawar Massacre and the open support of the killers on social media. In order to stop the message of fanatic groups from spreading, the government created a bill to give the PTA the power to criminalize any type of social media they deem “obscene” or “immoral”.

According to Madiha Latif of Dawn News, the Pakistani Prime Minister said that, “the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) would now have the authority to manage content online, without paying any attention to the lack of transparency and accountability in the current process.”

With what appears to be a law similar to an Orwellian Big Brother, Pakistani Netizens countered the bill with a barrage of social media activism.  Bolo Bhi, a non-profit Pakistani advocacy group for online freedom of information, began an online petition demanding that the bill be changed with input from the Pakistani public.

Apart from Bolo Bhi’s campaign to spread awareness of the cyber-crime bill, Twitter has erupted with thousands of users bolstering the hashtag #WeRejectCyberBill to demonstrate their solidarity against government regulation of social media.

At the same time, the bill’s original goal is to deter terrorist propaganda and it’s likely that the PTA will use that power to prevent supporters for groups like the Taliban from growing in influence.

Whether it’s too early to tell if this bill will be used as a tool of technological tyranny or a protector of Pakistani peace is uncertain. Pakistan is at a crossroad. Dialogue between the people and the government is necessary for the two to avoid conflict and direct their combined efforts toward stopping the spread of extremist ideology in social media.

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