Pakistan probes social media campaign against Saudi prince

Govt upset that journalists, activists displayed photo of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Pakistan probes social media campaign against Saudi prince

Pakistani soldiers patrol on a street next to welcoming posters of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Islamabad on Feb. 17. The prince was starting an Asian tour to seek lucrative contracts for his country. (Photo by Aamir Qureshi/AFP) reporter, Karachi
March 28, 2019
Pakistani authorities are investigating a social media campaign that protested a recent visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the country.

An official confidential letter leaked March 27 said the Cybercrime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had been directed by the Interior Ministry to investigate journalists, activists or group who partook in “a targeted social media campaign” against the crown prince’s Feb. 17-18 visit.

“These activists displayed the picture of murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on their social media profile pictures, which conveyed a very disrespectful message to the visiting dignitary,” said the letter, which named individuals and groups such as Majlis Wahjadt-e-Muslimeen (a Shia political party), Imamia Student Organization (a Shia student union) and the banned Hizb ul Tahrir Pakistan.

Some Pakistani journalists, dissidents and Shia political groups participated in the protests by using Khashoggi’s picture on the profile pictures of their Twitter accounts.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2, 2018. The crown prince has been implicated in being behind the murder. The Saudi government said the murder was the work of rogue elements.   

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked the FIA to stop harassing journalists over social media posts.

“Is there any wonder why journalists wave the flag of #JamalKhashoggi? He was one of them, murdered for his work,” the CPJ said.

Most of those named in the FIA letter are likewise known for their criticism of the sitting Imran Khan government and the country’s powerful military establishment.

Ammar Masood, who was among those named, called the government’s action an attack on freedom of expression.

“So now journalists will be punished for changing their profile pictures? The state of freedom of expression in Pakistan is under a real threat,” Masood tweeted.

Father Morris Jalal, executive director of Catholic TV, said the government’s actions appeared to be an attempt to please the crown prince. He added that media in Pakistan is being closely monitored.

“Everybody is afraid. After suppressing the electronic and print media, the government has now set her eyes on social media. It is not free anymore. The breathing space is shrinking,” said Father Jalal.

Press freedom group Reporters with Borders described Pakistan in its most recent World Press Freedom Index as a dangerous country for journalists, ranking it at 139 out of 180 countries.

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