September 2nd, 2020
By Asim Khan
Human rights activists have condemned the directives issued by the Balochistan government for its officials to quit following and supporting those social media accounts and groups that are ‘propagating against’ the provincial government. The activists said that such a decision will end up restricting people from voicing their complaints to officials through social media.
A few days ago, the Balochistan government ordered its public servants to boycott the social media accounts and even Whatsapp groups that had anything negative to say about the provincial government. According to a notification, the directive is meant to control the spread of ‘misinformation’. The notification goes so far as to warn officials of ‘disciplinary action’ in case they did not quit the social media groups and accounts.
According to Behram Baloch, a social media activist, the ban is an attempt to curtail the free flow of information which is a violation of the basic rights of citizens. He also points out that the ban will be ineffective in essence, but the point of it is that the government wishes to restrict information.
“The ban is surprising given that the provincial cabinet approved a law on the right to access information last week,” he said.
The government fears free flow of information, said Baloch, adding that the measure will raise concerns among people and media persons. “We are living in the 21st century. The government could have set up a secure system if it fears leak in official secrecy as done in the United States.”
Liaquat Shahnwani, the spokesperson of the provincial government, clarifies that the government has not banned social media accounts of officials or restricted them from using it.
“There are certain social media accounts specifically created for propaganda against the provincial government. We have asked government officials to quit these accounts because they should neither become part of the propaganda nor suffer from any confusion,” he tells reporters at a press conference.
An activist Byazid Kharoti questions the logic of the decision saying how come a chief minister who operates a dozen accounts himself can order civil servants to quit social media accounts. The activist has sent a legal notice to the provincial government. There is no onslaught of propaganda against Balochistan on the national media, he adds.
“Social media is often the only platform where citizens can easily critique the government and have their complaints heard,” he says. “People access government officials through social media groups and accounts too.”
According to Kharoti, the provincial government should have approached the courts under the cybercrime laws against those propagating against them. “The ban is a violation of fundamental rights,” Kharoti concludes.