In the past two years, The Pakistani government has forced Google and Apple to withdraw apps created by developers from other countries in the country (belonging to an oppressed religious minority).
This move is Suppress Led by the country’s telecommunications regulator, targeting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. There are about 4 million supporters called Ahmadis in Pakistan. Although Ahmadis is considered Muslim, the Pakistani government regards them as infidels. A 1984 decree prohibits them from “pretending” to be Muslims, not to adopt Islamic customs, and calls their chapel mosque. Pakistan is the only country that has declared that Ahmadis is not a Muslim.
The number of Ahmadis has been persecuted for ten years, including An attack in 2010 killed 93 people.However, Pakistan’s telecommunications regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA)’s pressure on multinational technology companies, shows that New will Target religious minorities beyond their borders. This is also the first example of the government using anti-blasphemy rules to force international technology companies to censor content.
The problem is that seven religious apps created by the Ahmadi community in the United States are released under the name “Ahmadiyya Islamic Community”.
Three of the apps contain “exactly the same [Arabic] According to their description, the text can be found in all versions of the Quran,” and comments on Ahmadi’s views. They can still be used in app stores in other countries. All of these are Has been deleted by Google in Pakistan. In addition, there are four other applications, including FAQs about Islam and a weekly Urdu news magazine. PTA urged Google to delete them, but these applications did not been deleted.
When asked to comment, a PTA spokesperson directed BuzzFeed news to the department’s website.
A Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: “Our service makes search results, videos, applications and other content widely applicable, and must comply with local laws and take human rights standards into consideration.” “We will issue government orders in due course. Challenged, when we need to delete apps and other types of content that don’t violate our policies, we will try to do so with as few restrictions as possible.”
Apple did not respond to a request for comment, but Apple issued a notice to app developers on May 17, 2019, stating that the company is removing one of their apps from its Pakistan store because it “contains illegal content.”
According to the PTA, Pakistan recently sent Google and Wikipedia a removal notice regarding Ahmadi content on December 25, 2020. Press release. Harris Zafar, a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the United States, said that two days later, Google cancelled one of the Quran apps. (There is no indication that Wikipedia deleted any Ahmadi content in response to this request, but the Wikimedia Foundation did not return a request for comment.)
A few weeks later, a group of Ahmadi community leaders talked with Google executives.
“[Google] Zafar stated that they have raised human rights issues with PTA, but were told that if Ahmadi content is not deleted, they will have to stop their business in Pakistan. “Of course we are surprised… We think that once we make recommendations on human rights, they will do the right thing.”
The PTA also ordered the closure of the Ahmadi website in the United States. TrueIslam.com, Brought criminal charges against his administrator and imposed a fine of 3 million U.S. dollars. The decision may not be enforceable because the people who run the site (including Zafar) do not live in Pakistan. But this does mean that if they travel there, they may be charged, which means that Zafar cannot visit his extended family.
“This is a disturbing development, nothing more than an 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 of them Several countries including China, Vietnam, Germany, Nigeria, with Russia, It has data localization rules and can better control the technology platform. When technology companies store data or have offices in a country/region, they must abide by local laws.
PTA Publish new rules At the end of last year, it had broader powers to block online content. These rules enable it to censor online content, which it believes may harm the government or threaten the security of Pakistan.
Members of the industry organization, the Asian Internet Alliance, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, expressed opposition to the decision. The organization wrote in a letter to regulators on December 5 that the rule would “block Pakistani citizens from accessing the free and open Internet.”
Zafar said that PTA has been putting pressure on Google since 2018, and Apple has been putting pressure on Apple since 2019. Since then, Ahmadi developers have produced other versions of the Quran app.
Google shut down the first Quran application in the Ahmadiyya community in September 2018. After filing an objection, 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 whether they would consider removing the word “Muslim” from their names to avoid offending the Pakistani government.
“No,” answered a colleague of Zafar, Ahmadi’s lawyer. “This decision will have a significant impact. This is a precedent. It will be authorized by Pakistan because it has been recognized by one of the world’s major companies.”
Zafar said that the meeting ended without a resolution. In October 2019, Google shut down the app again. Apple removed the app from its store in May.
Zafar said he was disappointed.
Zafar said: “Everything Google does is to succumb to the PTA and censor our communities.” “This exacerbates human rights violations against us because it confirms the basis of persecution in Pakistan. If there are other solutions, we are I want to hear their opinions, but so far, Google has not provided other solutions.” ●