Freedom of Expression

After notice from Twitter, Journo says Pak Army won’t leave him alone even in exile

Prominent journalist in exile, Taha Siddiqui, has recently received a notice from Twitter saying that the Pakistani government reported some of his tweets claiming to be in violation of Pakistan’s law and sought their removal. Twitter says in the notice to Siddiqui that they received this information in an official correspondence.

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Screenshot of Twitter’s email posted online by journalist Taha Siddiqui

What did Taha Siddiqui say

It is unclear which Pakistani laws Taha violated but all the tweets mentioned are related to the military where Siddiqui is either criticising them or quoting protestors who are naming the military for violation. I went through all those tweets and there is nothing abusive or offensive there. The only thing being abused here are the Pakistani laws and by the Pakistani state itself and the intent clearly is to silence a journalist even in exile.

Speaking exclusively to Voice of Internet, Taha Siddiqui expressed disappointment saying “as you must have seen, all of the reported tweets were pertaining to Pakistan military who have been after me since many years now. They tried to use FIA against me in 2017, then tried to kidnap and kill me in 2018 and now they are harassing me while I m far away in exile.”

It’s shocking that the Pakistani state would go to that length to silence criticism and even though Twitter says it is not complying, these notices alone are enough to harass and put  pressure on journalists — many of whom heavily rely on Twitter after being censored in their own outlets in their own countries.

“I understand back home in Pakistan things are becoming worse for freedom of speech and therefore I have somewhat safety in exile but such continuous harassment, through social media platforms, and not just officially but also by using social media troll armies that the military runs and as was exposed by Facebook recently, they think they can intimidate us into silence,” Taha went on to say.

This is not the first such notice that Taha Siddiqui received. “I have gotten multiples ones in the past,” he said, adding that “I would say I have received at least 5 such notices in the last six months.”

When asked if he plans to respond legally, he said the only action he takes is he puts “it out there so the world can see how Pakistani government is trying to intimidate and silence me by pressuring Twitter to send me these notices.”

He expressed the resolve to continue speaking and criticising the military for its alleged human rights violations.

The Pakistani ministry of information and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) are expected to be vague in their methods but what Twitter is doing is also questionable. It’s not enough for them to just send emails that look like legal notices to already persecuted journalists who have to go through cyber trolling and constant fear of losing their social media assets.

Taha Siddiqui is a Pakistani journalist currently living in exile in Paris and runs safenewsrooms.org. His associations include NYTimes, The Guardian, AJEnglish, The Washington Post and ForeignPolicy. He escaped an abduction attempt in Pakistan last year and has been vocal against Pakistan establishment through his work.

Voice of Internet has reached out to PTA, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Pakistan and Twitter for a comment and will update this post when we hear from them.

Update 1: Twitter’s version

We have received Twitter’s comment on the issue and they said they don’t share information on an individual account account for privacy and security reasons.

On follow-up questions, they said:

Our policies are detailed clearly on our site for legal requests. We track every one we receive via the Lumen Database and twice-yearly aggregate as part of the Twitter Transparency Report. We notify individuals from for the same reason. From the report:

We notify specified account holders of requests for their account information unless we’re prohibited or the request falls into one of the exceptions to our user notice policy (e.g., emergencies regarding imminent threat to life, child sexual exploitation, terrorism)

More information about user notice is available in our Guidelines for Law Enforcement and our Legal Request FAQ, which provides users with more details about what happens when we receive a request for their account information or removal of their content.

This means Twitter can decide to withhold the reported content for viewers in Pakistan if it is deemed illegal in the said jurisdiction.

We’re still waiting to hear from PTA and Information Ministry in Pakistan and will update accordingly.

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