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Eradicating blasphemous content from social media.

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has started an awareness campaign against the blasphemous content on social media through a Short Message Service (SMS). A large number of people has received the SMS and appreciated the PTA initiative.

In the SMS, PTA warns that the uploading and sharing of blasphemous content on internet is a punishable offense under the law. Such content should be reported on for legal action. Meanwhile, the PTA says it has received more than 3000 complaints regarding blasphemous contents on social media sites.

An official told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication that most of the websites have been blocked while the web pages of social media, such as Facebook, Youtube and dailymotion, containing such contents were being scrutinized by the respective social media management on the request of the government.

The official said overall 1660 websites were found to be containing the blasphemous content. The NA body met under the chairmanship of Captain Muhammad Safdar and was attended by MNAs Mehar Ishtiaq Ahmad, Farhana Qamar, Zahra Wadood Fatemi, Shazia Marri, Engineer Dawar Khan Kundi, Syed Ali Raza Abidi and Shahjehan Muneer Mangrio. The committee was further informed that a Facebook delegation is visiting Pakistan next month to discuss the issue of blasphemous content on social networking site.

The chairman of the committee asked the ministry to also arrange a meeting of the committee with the delegation of Facebook when it arrives here. An official of FIA told the committee that since the approval of Cyber Crime Bill in March, 2017, the agency has apprehended four suspects involved in posting blasphemous contents on websites. The committee unanimously showed its serious concern over the issue of blasphemous and objectionable material posted on social media and asked the ministry concerned, PTA and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) representatives about the actions taken till date and the progress to mitigate the issues relating to this important subject.

The relevant officials briefed the Committee about the blasphemous and objectionable material on social media.

They also briefed the lawmakers about the culprits arrested across the country in connection with posting and propagation of blasphemous material.

The Committee appreciated the efforts being undertaken so far by the IT ministry, PTA, FIA and other agencies to tackle the issue.

Recently, Facebook administration has been blocking illegal blasphemous content on Pakistan's request and 85 per cent of such material on the social networking site has already been removed.

Interior Secretary Arif Khan said in his report that Facebook had responded to their letter and showed its willingness to remove content deemed blasphemous.

He said the federal government has taken ambassadors of 27 Muslim countries on board in connection with the issue. Furthermore, three arrests have been made during the course of the online blasphemy probe, out of which two people were directly involved in posting blasphemous content, he stated. Law enforcers have also found blasphemous content from the suspects' laptops and mobile devices. A joint interrogation team has been constituted to probe the matter, he added.

When asked why the ambassador of the country from where the offence originated was not summoned, the interior secretary responded: "Our embassy in Washington has also taken up the matter [with the US government]."

He said banning Facebook is "not the solution of the problem".

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Ismael Shah said a team, comprising 25 members, has been working to search blasphemous content online. He said that the authority has so far taken action against 40 such pages.

Meanwhile, taking up on another agenda item, the representatives from Universal Services Fund (USF) gave a detailed briefing on USF's ongoing and future projects along with completion date and fund utilization up to 30th June, 2018.

The Committee also appointed a Sub-Committee headed by MNA Farhana Qamar to look into the performance of Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB).
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Date:May 31, 2017
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