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Pakistan parliament to set up panel to probe blasphemy online

Last week, an Islamabad high court judge directed the government to remove blasphemous content from social media platforms or shut down the online portals.

world Updated: Mar 15, 2017 18:55 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws in Islamabad.
Students of Islamic seminaries chant slogans during a rally in support of blasphemy laws in Islamabad.(AP File)

Pakistan’s parliament has decided to set up a committee to investigate blasphemous content on social media after a judge of the Islamabad high court directed the government to remove such material or shut down the online portals.

On Wednesday, the parliament called on the government to immediately take measures to crack down on blasphemy. One by one, leaders from nearly all parties paid tribute to Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad high court for taking “suo motu cognisance of an issue of the utmost importance”.

Lawmakers also criticised dissenting voices such as rights activist Asma Jahangir, who criticised Siddiqui’s observations in the matter. Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F lawmaker Jamaluddin even went as far as to dub Jahangir “an enemy of the country” for saying the judge was only fit to be a prayer leader at a mosque.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the blocking of blasphemous content on social media and said those behind the propagation of such material should be swiftly punished.

The Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the Taliban, issued a statement supporting Siddiqui’s order on blasphemous content. Observers said this was probably the first time a major Taliban group has expressed support for a state official.

Earlier this week, Siddiqui directed the government to remove blasphemous content “even if it meant blocking social media entirely”. He said blasphemers are no less than terrorists and ordered authorities to place the names of all alleged blasphemers on the interior ministry’s Exit Control List so they cannot leave Pakistan and escape criminal proceedings.

Siddiqui was hearing a petition against alleged blasphemous content on social media pages. Following the court’s ruling, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) released a statement asking people to keep an eye on “blasphemers” on Facebook and other social networking sites and report them to the agency’s Islamabad office.

Siddiqui had last month given a ruling against Valentine’s Day celebrations. The same judge had also served as counsel for Abdul Aziz, the head cleric of the radical Lal Masjid, and Mumtaz Qadri, the man who assassinated Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

A reference filed against Siddiqui for alleged corruption and misuse of power is currently being heard by the Supreme Judicial Council.

The judge allegedly pressured the Capital Development Authority of Islamabad to build a special cage for his pigeons on the rooftop of his official residence. The reference accused the judge of shifting his residence thrice is search of a better place and alleged the CDA spent Rs12 million on renovating his house.