ISLAMABAD, 8 Nov 2017: Nine Facebook pages, mostly belonging to separatist Sindhi and Baloch groups, have been taken down by Facebook at the request of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, PTA.
As per details, the Facebook pages were blocked after PTA’s Internet Policy and Web Analysis Division, IP&WA, provided a list of 11 URLs to Facebook in a letter dated October 17, 2017. According to the letter available with Media Matters for Democracy, the pages were reported and requested to be blocked under “anti-state/banned organization” category.
The titles of the Facebook pages, mentioned within the URLs in the letter, shows that five Facebook pages each were focused on Baloch and Sindh separatist groups. All the Sindh related Facebook pages identified themselves with the name of Jeay Sindh Mutahidda Mahaz (Long live Sindh United Front) a Sindh based separatist political organization. On the other, two Baloch Facebook pages identified themselves with names of organized militant/political group namely “Baloch Republican Party” and “Baloch Liberation Front.”
However, it was not clear how many of them were actually operated by workers of organized political parties.
The scribe also checked all the aforementioned links to find out the status of the all the pages. Specifically, out of 11 pages, the status of eight pages showed that they were unavailable only in Pakistan in compliance with local laws. It was also revealed that only one page was removed altogether by Facebook whereas two pages, one titled “Tahreek e Jafaria Pakistan” and the other “Azad Balochistan” were still functioning.
In the past, Government had come under criticism from different quarters for not being able to block websites and social media accounts affiliated with banned organizations. Earlier this year, Dawn News carried out an independent investigation and found out that 41 out of 64 banned organizations had presence on Facebook in the form of pages, groups and individual profiles.
According to the investigation, sectarian groups like Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat and Sipah e Sahaba apart from separatist Sindhi and Baluch groups had the largest presence online. However, it is not clear whether any action against sectarian Facebook pages have been taken or not as of yet.
Different civil society activists, including Media Matters for Democracy, have repeatedly reached out to PTA for the provision of a list of websites/social media accounts being blocked under the category of “Anti-state/banned organization”. However, PTA has remained hesitant in making the list public.
Rights activists, in background discussions with the scribe, expressed concerns at the secrecy with which the list of websites blocked under “Anti-state” category was being maintained. They noted that the government should be transparent and make list public.
Image Courtesy: The Daily Journalist
Talal Raza is a Program Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. He has worked with renowned media organizations and NGOs including Geo News, The Nation, United States Institute of Peace and Privacy International.