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November 7, 2018
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After the protest

Editorial

November 7, 2018

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The aftermath of the countrywide rioting by the TLP in the wake of Aasia Bibi’s acquittal by the Supreme Court has clearly shown that the government has not understood the lessons from this incident. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry has insisted that action would be taken against those who destroyed public property during the protests even though the agreement – some might call it surrender – signed between the government and the TLP called for all those arrested to be released. If the government was serious about catching violent protesters, it would immediately take action rather than just talking a good game. More dangerous are warnings of regulation of social media sites. The PTA has also recently been complaining that Twitter does not take action on most government requests to block offensive material and accounts. Twitter has indeed become a hotbed of extremism worldwide, with neo-Nazis, racists and extremists using the site to spread hatred. As bad as that it is, it would be even worse if steps were taken to ban or block social media sites. The history of the state in silencing legitimate dissenting voices means that it cannot be trusted to exercise sound judgement. Already the PTI government has worried many with its plan to bring the print, electronic and social media under one regulator. Should free expression be curbed on social media too, that would mean a shrinking of the public square.

It would be best for the government to look inward rather than blaming the internet for the troubles of the last week. Yes, it was unfortunate that Khadim Rizvi was allowed to post incendiary tweets but if his presence on Twitter is unacceptable, why are he and his party allowed to demonstrate publicly, issue threats to state institutions and even stand for elections? That the TLP has been able to build a following is because the state has allowed it to. When the TLP first came to prominence with its Faizabad protests, the PTI had stood with the TLP. Now we have the information minister facetiously suggesting that its members should be orbited into space. Maybe there instead needs to be introspection on what has been done to encourage such rhetoric.

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