The state, in two separate occasions in the past day, has mishandled situations involving social media. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has expressed dismay over Facebook not responding to the government’s call to release information about users that posted a picture of Nawaz Sharif with someone who was initially thought to be CJP Saqib Nisar. While Mr Nisar is right, and the post can be construed as defamation, surely this cannot a priority for the government right now and surely they have gone over the website’s privacy policy?

The government’s pettiness in this matter is such that the US Government and Facebook have both ignored the government’s repeated calls for information. The superior judiciary also seems entirely indifferent to this, which makes one wonder why the government is so insistent on ensuring that those responsible are caught. It has only brought more undue attention to the original post.

Fake news and information on social media is definitely a problem, but maybe a bigger issue is the presence of extremist, sectarian and hate-promoting material available online, which the government is seemingly doing nothing about.

The Interior Ministry is just one step behind the Islamabad High Court (IHC); after declaring that blasphemy is the worst form of terrorism, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui has gone one step further and ordered that all blasphemous pages on social media should be blocked with immediate effect, and the names of their owners should be placed on the Exit Control List (ECL). If this does not happen, Justice Siddiqui has threatened to summon the Prime Minister to explain the government’s potential non-compliance.

The IHC’s orders are being implemented, the Islamabad Police has already registered cases against ‘unidentified persons’ for owning pages such as Bhensa, Mochi and Roshni. The strangest aspect of this entire episode is that a judge of the high court has pronounced individuals guilty, without any investigation, or evidence against them. Placing names on the ECL without proof goes against all acceptable judicial norms. Has the central tenant of the justice system, “innocent until proven guilty” been forgotten?

Once the people responsible behind the pages are placed on the ECL – a list available to the general public, the IHC is essentially marking these individuals for death. Blasphemy is a controversial issue in Pakistan and needs to be resolved via public debate. There also needs to be a realisation that criticising the blasphemy law, is not blasphemy itself, and the Internet is not a forum like a printed newspaper, or a public rally, that people can be rounded up and arrested on it if they offend someone’s feelings.

There are some concerns that the handling of the case is centred on personal inclinations entirely, without considering the supremacy of the law. The Supreme Court should take note, before the IHC becomes even more far removed from both reality and the national narrative on terrorism.