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Pakistan forcibly shut down apps made by persecuted religious minorities

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In the past two years, The Pakistani government has forced Google and Apple to delist the country’s apps, which were created by developers in other countries who belong to a repressed religious minority.

This move is Suppress Led by the country’s telecommunications regulator, targeting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. There are about 4 million followers known as Ahmadi in Pakistan. Although the Ahmedites are considered Muslims, the Pakistani government regards them as infidels. A 1984 decree prohibited them from “impersonating” Muslims, adopting Islamic religious customs, and calling their chapels a mosque. Pakistan is the only country that declares that Ahmadism is not Muslim.

Ahmadism has been facing persecution for decades, including An attack in 2010 killed 93 peopleBut Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA)’s pressure on multinational technology companies shows New will Target religious minorities beyond their borders. This is also one of the first examples of the government using anti-blasphemy rules to force international technology companies to censor content.

What is controversial are the seven religious applications created by the Ahmadi community in the United States and released under the name “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community”.

Three of the applications contain “exactly the same [Arabic] According to their descriptions, texts commonly found in all versions of the Quran” and comments on Ahmad’s views. They are still available in app stores in other countries/regions. All of them were removed by Google in Pakistan In addition, there are four other apps, including frequently asked questions about Islam and a weekly Urdu news magazine. PTA is pressing Google to delete them, but they have not been removed.

When asked to comment, a PTA spokesperson pointed BuzzFeed News to the department’s website.

“Our service makes search results, videos, apps, and other content widely available, subject to local laws and taking into account human rights standards,” a Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “We will challenge government orders at the appropriate time. When we are asked to delete applications and other types of content that do not violate our policies, we will try to do so in the least restrictive way.”

Apple did not respond to a request for comment, but Apple’s notice to app developers on May 17, 2019 stated that it was removing one of their apps from its Pakistani store because it “contains illegal content “.

According to PTA, Pakistan recently sent a removal notice regarding Ahmadi content to Google and Wikipedia on December 25, 2020 Press releaseHarris Zafar, spokesperson for the Ahmadiyah Muslim community in the United States, said that two days later, Google removed one of the Quran apps. (There is no indication that Wikipedia removed any Ahmadi content upon request, but the Wikimedia Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.)

A few weeks later, a group of Ahmadi community leaders talked with Google executives.

“[Google] Said they had raised human rights issues with PTA, but were told that if they did not delete Ahmad’s content, they would have to stop their business in Pakistan,” Zafar said. “We are of course surprised… we think once we Ask human rights issues and they will do the right thing. “

The PTA also ordered the closure of the Ahmadi site in the United States. True islam, Threatened its managers with a $3 million criminal charge. The decision may not be enforceable because the people who operate the site, including Zafar, do not live in Pakistan. But this does mean that if they travel there, they may face charges, which means that Zafar cannot visit his extended family.

“This is a disturbing development and a complete attempt to weaponize Pakistan’s blasphemy laws against American citizens,” the lawyer representing the site administrator wrote in a letter to the Pakistani authorities.

Pakistan is one Several countries including China, Vietnam, Germany, Nigeria, with Russia, With data localization rules, can better control the technology platform. When technology companies store data or have offices in a certain country, they must comply with local laws.

Family Education Association Publish new rules At the end of last year, this gave it broader powers to block online content. These rules allow it to censor online content that it believes may harm the government or threaten the security of Pakistan.

The Asian Internet Alliance, an industry organization whose members include Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google, opposed this decision and wrote to regulators on December 5, stating that the rule would “prevent Pakistani citizens from accessing the free and open Internet.”

Zafar stated that PTA has been pressing Google since 2018 and has been pressing Apple since 2019. The developers of Ahmadi produced other versions of Quran apps in the following years, and these companies were all removed under the order of PTA.

Google removed the first Quran app from the Ahmadiyya community in September 2018. After being opposed, Google restored the application and held a meeting between the company and the developers in March of the following year.

According to the meeting minutes, a Google executive asked if they would consider removing the word “Muslim” from their names to avoid offending the Pakistani government.

“No,” replied a colleague of Zafar, Ahmadi Law Firm. “This decision will have a significant impact due to the recognition of one of the world’s largest companies. This is a precedent that enables Pakistan to continue to do so.”

Zafar said that the meeting did not reach any resolution, and in October 2019, Google once again removed the application. Apple removed the same application from its store in May.

Zafar said he was disappointed.

“All Google did was surrender to PTA and censor our community,” Zafar said. “This exacerbates human rights violations against us because it confirms the basis of the persecution in Pakistan. If there are alternative solutions, we would like to hear them, but so far, Google has not provided an alternative.” ●



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