Your Tweets Might Violate Pakistan Blasphemy Laws, Twitter Warns Users

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WHEN Canadian columnist, Anthony Furey, received an email said to be from Twitter’s legal team telling him he may have broken a slew of Pakistani laws, his first instinct was to dismiss it as spam.

But after Googling the relevant sections of Pakistan’s penal code, the Toronto Sun op-ed editor was startled to learn he stood accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammad — a crime punishable by death in the Islamic republic — and Twitter later confirmed the correspondence was genuine.

His perceived offence was to post cartoons of the prophet several years ago.

Furey and two prominent critics of extremism in Islam say they are “shocked” to have received notices by the social media giant this past week over alleged violations of Islamabad’s laws, despite having no apparent connection to the South Asian country.

They say the notices amount to an effort to stifle their voices — a charge Twitter denies, arguing the notices came about as a result of “valid requests from an authorized entity,” understood to mean Pakistan, helped users “to take measures to protect their interests,” and the process is not unique to any one country.

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But Furey is the third prominent user in the space of days to publicly complain about receiving a message linked to Pakistan.

The other two are Saudi-Canadian activist Ensaf Haidar and Imam Mohammad Tawhidi, a progressive Muslim scholar from Australia who was born in Iran.

Both are outspoken critics of religious extremism and have accused the social media giant of helping to silence progressive ideas within Islam.

Furey, who detailed his experience in a column for his newspaper on Saturday, told AFP: “I’m somewhat alarmed that Twitter would even allow a country to make a complaint like this, as it almost validates their absurd blasphemy laws.”

The tweet in question was a collage of cartoons of Mohammad that he posted four years ago.

“Looking back, I remember I did it right after there had been an ISIS-inspired attack in retaliation over the cartoons,” Furey wrote in his column, adding he had not posted similar material before or since.

Haidar, who is the wife of Saudi writer Raif Badawi who was jailed in his country in 2012 for charges including apostasy, told AFP: “I’m very shocked by Twitter. They want to silence any voice telling the truth.”

Twitter wrote to her concerning an August tweet which showed a woman wearing the Islamic full veil, with the caption: “Retweet if you’re against niqab.”

A notice sent to her and seen by AFP advised her that Twitter had received official correspondence saying she could be violating Pakistani law for the tweet, adding: “You may wish to consult legal counsel about this matter.”

Tawhidi meanwhile was sent a similar notice flagging a tweet that called on Australian police to investigate extremism in mosques following a deadly knife attack in Melbourne in November.

The scholar attached the legal notice sent to him by Twitter informing him of possible violations of Pakistani law, and tweeted: “I am not from Pakistan nor am I a Pakistani citizen.

“Pakistan has no authority over what I say. Get out of here.”

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