Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry on Wednesday announced that the government is gearing up to launch a crackdown against extremist narratives on social media in the next few weeks.
Chaudhry, who was addressing an event in Islamabad, said: “We have created a mechanism through which we will control hate speech on social media as well. A working group of our agencies, including the FIA, sat [to discuss this].
“Our problem is that the digital media is taking over formal media so it is important for us to regulate this. We are bringing a new authority called the Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority which will serve as a one-window operation for digital, print and electronic media.
“The informal media is a greater problem than formal media as the former is soon set to take over the latter so the need was to build a capacity through which we can monitor social media, trace fake accounts and those who break the law could be prosecuted.
“This week we have made some important arrests on the basis that they used social media to issue fatwas and advance their extremist narratives and threats. In the next few weeks we will launch a strict crackdown.
Chaudhry made it clear that the state will not allow extremists to dictate their narrative by use of force.
“The state wants a dialogue but that cannot happen if other does not let you do that,” he said. “If you are told that ‘my opinion is final and if you disagree I will shoot you or you should be hanged for saying this’ then you are using the state’s powers. Only the state has the power to use force or violence. Any individual cannot be allowed to the same.
“There is also a need for an international debate and it is taking place too. We’re very glad that his Royal Highness is coming to Pakistan and the Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 actually also provides a massive opportunity against extremism.
“We want to build a national and international narrative against extremism and we believe in making the laws reign supreme in Pakistan.”
Earlier in his speech, the information minister told his audience how Pakistan has managed to rid itself from “an irregular conflict” which he said was more complicated than “regular conflicts” where at least the enemy’s identity is clear.
“Our problem was that we got stuck in an irregular conflict in Afghanistan. Regular conflicts united nations as it happened in 1965 when the entire country knew that the battle was against India. But in irregular conflicts you do not know the enemy and that creates doubts in minds.
“It was due to our resilience that we have almost managed to escape this irregular conflict. Any other society may have gotten shattered in similar circumstances; we have seen that happen in the Middle East.
“We have been wounded, we have sacrificed 70,000 lives, blood was shed everywhere but we are not out of it. The next phase now is to consolidate on this and not allow people to exhibit hatred because the first stage of [this process] is extremism and the next is terrorism. The seed of terrorism is sowed through extremism.”
“Dialogue is a basic principle of a society and if that goes missing then there will be bloodshed. Our extremist part of the society says that ‘we won’t allow dialogue and whosoever disagrees from my opinion, we will issue fatwas against them.'”
“This is where the state comes into play. People have complete right to stick to their opinions and express themselves. However, people do not have the right to curb others’ freedom. The extent of my freedom ends where others’ begin. This principle of the freedom of expression is the genesis of Article 19.”
“Some [also] think that their freedom of expression is limitless. No sir, there is no liberty in the world that is without an extent. So you cannot infringe my freedom for the sake of your freedom. We have laws for this but they could not be enforced earlier due to political issues but now that we have made it out of the irregular conflict, it’s the state’s responsibility to address this and not allow hate speech.”
Chaudhry also thanked the “formal media” for helping the government curb hate speech before stressing the need to extend the crackdown on social and digital media.