January 23, 2021

‘Sacrilegious Content’: Govt, PTA issued notices over petition to permanently ban Netflix

Islamabad, 4 January 2020: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday issued notices to the Federal Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MOIB) and the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), seeking a response to a petition requesting a permanent ban on popular streaming website Netflix in the country citing the release of a film being termed “sacrilegious”.

IHC Justice Aamer Farooq heard a petition demanding a permanent ban on video streaming platform, Netflix filed by Hafiz Ihtesham Ahmed, a resident of Rawalpindi and one of the trustees of Lal Masjid’s Shohada Foundation of Pakistan. The Foundation had also earlier called for cutting diplomatic relations with France and raised concern over a minority community not being termed non-Muslims in the National Commission for Minorities (NCM).

Advocate Tariq Asad appeared on behalf of the petitioning organisation, apprising the court that a film which violated Islamic values and insulted holy personalities — has been released on Netflix. The movie’s trailers were being aired on YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms but the PTA had taken no concrete measures to stop it, he said.

Hafiz Ahmed included the Federation of Pakistan through Information Secretary, the PTA through its chairperson, and Foreign Secretary parties in his petition, which also asked the court to direct various social media and video-sharing platforms — including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — to open franchises in Pakistan within six months.

In response, the court directed the information ministry to appoint a representative to appear before it. In addition, the PTA was expected to officially apprise the IHC of its measures tomorrow (Tuesday). 

Similar pattern to 2012 film

The film was brought to public notice after the PTA issued and tweeted its advisory calling for its ban on social media.

PTA’s tweet regarding the movie attracted commentary from the public saying that they were not aware of the film till PTA brought it to their notice. The same pattern was also witnessed when public reaction on Innocence of Muslims, a 2012 amateur film on YouTube caused countrywide protests and resulted in a three year long ban on YouTube in Pakistan. 

Permanent Ban on Netflix 

Petitioner Hafiz Ahmed mentioned that the film’s writer is Yasser Al-Habib, a “controversial cleric” who is “known for stoking controversies”, and warned that the film may “incite a lot of bloodshed”. He requested the IHC to order a ban on the film and removal from social media, as well as to permanently block Netflix in Pakistan. He also appealed for the court to “direct the respondents to take necessary steps on international level to get the laws of the European States, US, European Convention of Human Rights and United States Covenants amended to give reverence to the Holy Prophet Hadrat Muhammad in line with Section 295-C PPC”, calling for “minimum sentence of life imprisonment” for blasphemy.

More than 300 web URLs reported

The PTA has already reached out to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to remove the trailer of the movie.

A press release issued Sunday by the PTA stated that 336 URLs with allegedly offensive content were already reported on various forums. It added that the state-run body “directed social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram & Twitter etc. for immediate blocking of content related to the movie from their platforms”.

Written by

Abad Mansouri (pseudonym) is a journalist and activist writing on gender-based issues and mental health.

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