For Immediate Release: March 21, 2017
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
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Facebook has a duty to protect the private information of individuals who have used the service to publish material that Pakistani officials deem “blasphemous,” the Center for Inquiry (CFI) admonished ahead of a reported visit to Pakistan by the social network’s representatives. CFI urged Facebook to make clear to Pakistan that its aggressive attempts to police online speech critical of religion are wrong and harmful.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law undermines liberty and freedom of speech, particularly for secular writers. Conviction for violating the law can lead to lengthy prison terms and even death. Over the past week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described blasphemy as an “unpardonable offense,” and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar was quoted in the press as stating, “Facebook and other service providers should share all information about the people behind this blasphemous content with us.” Pakistan has blocked access to social media sites in the past as a means of control and censorship.
“We do not want to see the people of Pakistan cut off from such a powerful and far-reaching platform as Facebook,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the United Nations. “But we hope Facebook makes clear that it will not compromise its users’ safety or freedom through disclosure.”
Added De Dora, “Facebook should use its leverage to encourage the government of Pakistan to abandon the theocratic, reactionary scapegoating of critics and dissidents, embrace the equal dignity of its people, and encourage the free and open exchange of ideas.”
In 2014, CFI led a coalition of secularist organizations urging Pakistan to end its censorship of Twitter, and encouraging the company to reject censorship requests from Pakistan. CFI has also delivered several statements to the UN Human Rights Council, where CFI holds special consultative status, on protecting online expression at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The Center for Inquiry is a nonprofit organization committed to promoting reason, science and secular values in the United States and abroad.