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Pakistan Asks Twitter To Take Down 'Fake' Postings Of Bibi Abroad

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry

Pakistan's government has asked Twitter and other social-media networks to take down what it says are "fake" images showing a Christian woman recently acquitted of blasphemy outside the country.

The government said on November 12 that the images are false because Asia Bibi remains in Pakistan at an undisclosed location because of death threats against her from hard-line religious groups.

Some rights activists said the government's efforts to shut down social-media postings have gone beyond allegedly fake images of Bibi, however, and are targeting social justice advocates as well.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said one "fake" posting the government is concerned about claims to show Bibi meeting Pope Francis. The photo is actually of Bibi's daughter from two years ago.

Chaudhry said the images misidentifying Bibi prompted death threats against a lawmaker in one photograph, Fazal Khan from the ruling Tehrik-e-Insaf Party. The lawmaker's constituency is in a deeply conservative region in the country's northwest.

"People can even be killed because of such fake postings," Chaudhry told AP. The pictures were widely circulated on social media in Pakistan.

"We are trying to seek cooperation from Twitter and Facebook against such fake news," Chaudhry said.

Hard-line Islamists held mass protests after Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Pakistani Supreme Court on October 21. They have demanded her public execution and have filed a petition to repeal her acquittal.

The government says Bibi has been released from prison, but she will remain in Pakistan until the legal review process is finished. She has been offered asylum by several European countries.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned hard-line groups against whipping up sentiment against Bibi and he has defended the Supreme Court judges who acquitted her, who have also received death threats.

Blasphemy is a highly charged issue in Pakistan, where mere allegations of insulting Islam or the Prophet Muhammad can incite lynchings.

With the government is seeking to shut down what it sees as inflammatory postings on social networks, two Pakistani rights activists said on November 12 that they had been warned by Twitter about content the government found objectionable.

The warnings came a week after Twitter blocked the account of hard-line cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi because of his death threats against the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Bibi, including calling on the judges' servants to kill them.

Nighat Dad, a Pakistani lawyer and activist, said her tweets were not the same as Rizvi's since they did not advocate violence. She said she believes the government is trying to quash legitimate dissent.

Twitter said it lets users know when it receives a government request to remove their content for violations of law or the company's terms of service.

"In our continuing effort to make our services available to people everywhere, if we receive a valid request from an authorized entity, it may be necessary to withhold access to certain content in a particular country from time to time," the company said.

Gul Bukhari, who was briefly abducted in July from a military cantonment in the eastern city of Lahore, said one of her e-mail warnings from Twitter referred to a tweet that criticized the government's lack of action against Rizvi.

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

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

Chaudhry told Reuters his office was only "trying to establish close coordination" with Twitter to curb "hate speech and death threats." He did not directly respond to questions about the activists' cases.

With reporting by AP and Reuters
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