Twitter warns Pakistan rights activists over government

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Two Pakistani rights activists said on Monday they had been warned by Twitter about the social media network, a move that signals an ongoing push by authorities in the South Asian country.

The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016. REUTERS / Brendan McDermid / File Photo

The warnings to a week after the social media company suspended the Twitter account of an ultra-right Pakistani cleric who issued threats to the government and the judiciary over the acquittal of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

But a civil rights advocate said the activists' tweets were not the same as those of the cleric since they did not advocate violence, adding that the complaints appeared to be part of a campaign to suppress criticism within Pakistan.

"Warnings are out of the air," said Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer and internet activist.

Twitter later said it will be useful when it receives a government request to remove its content for violations of law or the company's terms of service.

In this case, we are in a position to make a valid request for an authorized entity, the company said in a statement.

But the company does not always take action.

Twitter denied all of Pakistan's 156 requests to remove content from January 2012 through December 2017, according to the company's Global Transparency Report. It has been released for 2018.

In recent emails, Twitter told activist Taha Siddiqui, he said, "It's a violation of the law."

"Pakistani authorities … are pressuring Twitter to take 'legal' steps against me," Siddiqui, a correspondent for France 24 television, who fled Pakistan this year, told Reuters. "Twitter should stop becoming a facilitator of repressive regimes."

Pakistan's Information Minister Fawwad Chaudhry told Reuters his office was "trying to establish close co-ordination" with the words "to death", but did not directly respond to the questions of Siddiqui or Gul Bukhari, another activist who received two warnings.

Bukhari, who was briefly abducted in July from a military cantonment in the eastern city of Lahore, said that he criticized the government's lack of action against a prominent cleric.

The cleric, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, had his account blocked The Supreme Court Judges who acquitted Asia Bibi and urged their cooks and servants to kill them.

In a reply to Twitter, Bukhari said Rizvi's speeches violated the law because he was inciting violence against state officials.

"In my tweet I am asking the government to take action against him. In which world is that illegal? "She wrote.

Siddiqui, who left Pakistan after a tired abduction attempt he blames on the powerful military criticism, now lives in France and says he believes the complaint to Twitter came from his home country.

Writing by Saad Sayeed; editing by Clarence Fernandez, Peter Graff and G Lacrosse

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