NEW YORK - Twitter, an American online microblogging service, agreed to five requests from Pakistan in this month to block tweets regarded as ‘blasphemous’ in the South Asian country, The New York Times reported Friday.
“All five of those requests were honoured by the company, meaning that Twitter users in Pakistan can no longer see the content...,” the newspaper said in a dispatch.
The requests were made by Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority who asked the company, which is based in San Francisco, to shield his compatriots from exposure to ‘blasphemous’ accounts, tweets or searches of the social network, the newspaper said in a report.
The requests sought the blocking of crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), photographs of burning Qurans, and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star who now attends Duke University, the report added.
The blocking of these tweets in Pakistan — in line with the country-specific censorship policy Twitter unveiled in 2012 — is the first time the social network has agreed to withhold content there, it was pointed out.
According to the Times, Twitter, which has trumpeted its commitment to free speech, argues that it is a lesser evil to block specific tweets that might violate local laws than to have the entire site blocked in certain countries. Twitter posts a record of every request it agrees to in the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a database maintained by eight American law schools and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“This censorship comes as challenges to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law have become increasingly deadly, amid a flurry of arrests, killings and assassination attempts on secularists,” the Times said.
Meanwhile, Eva Galperin, a global policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, pointed out that a civil rights group in Pakistan concerned with Internet access, Bolo Bhi, called “the legitimacy of the requests forwarded by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority” to Twitter questionable. The law that defines the regulator’s power, the group explained, “does not in any form give PTA the authority to arbitrarily restrict content on the Internet.”
Close scrutiny of the law, the Pakistani rights group argued, suggests that “content removal, whether by itself or through another, is beyond the ambit of powers of the PTA or of any government authority for that matter.”