by: Ch. Muhammad Natiq
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On 1st July, the Indian Charge d’ Affaires (Cd’A) in Islamabad was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a strong demarche was made on the Indian government’s blocking of access to the content of 80 accounts on Twitter including withholding accounts of Pakistan’s diplomatic missions in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, UN-New York and the national broadcaster Radio Pakistan, by activating geo-blocking and deplorable internet censorship laws.
The Cd’A conveyed that these Indian actions were against international standards, obligations, norms, and framework of the flow of information and reflected the alarming pace of shrinking space for pluralistic voices and curbing of fundamental freedoms including expression and speech in India.
It is ironic that the world’s so-called largest democracy was exercising censorship, central controls and legalization of majoritarian politics at the expense of democratic ideals like freedom, choice and access to information.
We call upon the Indian government to stall this slide towards totalitarianism and act responsibly in the comity of nations. We also call upon the people of India to demand accountability of the blatant majoritarianism exercised by their government as an instrument of state policy.
The international community must prevail upon India to reverse its actions that curb free speech and fly in the face of sacred principles enshrined in the UN Charter for the good of humanity. Moreover, social media platforms need to demonstrate their commitment to safeguarding fundamental freedoms of speech and expression and abide by international norms and standards that ensure the continuing integrity of the digital communication interface. Twitter is also urged to reverse the withholding of our 4 official, verified digital assets that are not in contravention of any local or international laws.
India has blocked the official Twitter accounts of several Pakistani missions. What is the FO doing to get them unblocked? (Zulqernain Haider, ARY News)
Answer: You are referring to the withholding of Twitter accounts of our Missions in UN New York, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey by the platform in response to a request received from the Government of India.
I have referred to that in some detail in my opening remarks. You must have also seen our Press Release after a demarche was made to Indian Charge d’Affaires registering Pakistan’s strong rejection of India’s recent move to curb freedom of speech and expression and curtail its citizen’s fundamental right of access to information.
It is a matter of grave concern that India has slid into an oppressive, intolerant, totalitarian state where room for a plurality of people’s beliefs, opinions and voices is shrinking at an alarming rate.
Regarding this particular incident, we have registered our concern officially to the platform via Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. Specifically, we have asked for:
- Provision of exact reasons for withholding our select 4 accounts
- Clarity on why official, verified handles have been withheld in an unprecedented move
- Enhanced vigilance by the platform in protecting fundamental freedoms of speech and expression
- Unblocking of our geo-blocked accounts in India.
You would have followed news reports from international media including BBC and New York Times, that Twitter has filed a legal petition against Indian government orders to take down specific content and withhold/block accounts on no clear pretext other than political whims. These accounts include official, verified accounts such as those of our Missions abroad. We believe this legal accountability is a step in the right direction and we hope the Indian legal system passes this test of its integrity and character.
We would also like to appeal to our media, and through our media, international organizations that are guardians of free speech and expression to hold the Indian digital dictatorship to account and prevail upon the Government of India to reverse its actions.