ISLAMABAD   -    Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) chairman on Friday told the Senate Special Committee that the government was going to introduce a new policy to regulate social media in the country.

PTA Chairman Major General (r) Amir Azeem Bajwa asked the government either to increase technical capabilities of the Authority or block social media websites in the country in order to stop the dissemination of blasphemous content online.

Briefing the Senate Special Committee on purported grievances of some sections of the society, he said that the government had instructed the PTA to frame new rules for regulating the social media . “The Authority will soon submit draft of the proposals to the government for its approval,” he added.

Bajwa told the committee that met with Senator Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif in the chair that blocking of websites having blasphemous content was not an easy job. “The blasphemous content is being disseminated online through fake names and proxies,” he said, and added that such websites were now spotted on the dark web in Pakistan and it was not easy to control these. “The blocked websites are opened through proxies on the dark web,” he informed.

PTA chief said that local solution to the problem was necessary as most of such websites were being operated from other countries. He suggested Pakistan should develop a local version of social networking sites on the pattern of China.

“The government should either formulate a policy to block social media websites in the country like China and the United Arab Emirates or increase PTA’s technical capabilities,” he demanded.

He went on to say that the government should sign treaties with other countries so that access to blasphemous content found on social media could be blocked in Pakistan.

Senator Saif proposed that PTA should choke revenues of the social media websites containing blasphemous content as these earned huge money from Pakistan.

PTA chief, in his briefing, said that PTA had set up a cell to monitor websites and it had blocked more than 39,000 URLs since 2010. “We have also run campaigns in order to inform people that sharing blasphemous content was a crime,” he told the Senate body.

“PTA has received 8,500 complaints about blasphemous content on the internet,” Bajwa said, and added that some local websites had been blocked while those administered from other countries had been informed in this connection.

He also said that international media reports that Pakistan topped the list of countries where child pornography was common were misleading.

“There is child pornography in Pakistan, but Pakistan is not at the top,” he said, and added that the Authority had blocked 850,000 websites containing pornographic content.

Barrister Saif said that the rules relating to the blasphemous content should not be religion specific. He asked PTA to prepare and review existing laws for a more effective crackdown on blasphemous content online. “PTA, Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and other government agencies are responsible for taking action against those people who are involved in the publication of blasphemous content in order to create anarchy in the society,” he stressed.

The FIA DG told the committee that the Agency had registered 19 cases of disseminating blasphemous content online, out of which 15 were registered in Punjab and four in Islamabad and arrests were also made in these cases. “As many as 12 other complaints are under investigation,” he informed.

He further said that that FIA had received 32,000 complaints in the past three years and its cyber wing had only 15 experts to investigate these cases. He pointed out that the wing was understaffed. 

The committee stressed the need for a proper legislation to block publication of blasphemous content online and to hold accountable those who are behind this act.