Dozens of banned militant, sectarian, terrorist and anti-state groups in Pakistan reportedly operate freely on social media, particularly on Facebook, spreading hate speech without being confronted by authorities.
In an investigative article published Tuesday, the English-language DAWN newspaper reports 41 of the 64 extremist organizations banned by the government are accessible to social network users in the form of hundreds of pages, groups and individual profiles.
While Pakistan's counter-extremism efforts have long remained under fire for being selective, critics say the reported unchecked extremist activity strengthens widespread opposition fears a recently unleashed government crackdown on social media in the name of "national security" is meant only to stifle political dissent and demands for accountability of state institutions.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government has not immediately commented on the newspaper report and has previously rejected allegations its social media crackdown is targeting political opponents.
‘Hate roams free’
The Federal Investigation Agency that is coordinating the anti-social media campaign has mostly detained and probed social media activists linked to Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and other opposition parties.
Khan has been staging street protests and holding public rallies to pressure Sharif to step down for alleged corruption. His opposition party, analysts note, has effectively used social media to highlight governance issues and mobilize public support in Pakistan.
Critics say that pressuring political opponents and "selectively" moving against extremist forces will fuel religious fanaticism.
“The increasing curbs on freedom of expression in the so-called name of national security will not permit the construction of an intellectual edifice which is needed to for countering terrorism,” observed opposition Senator Farhatullah Babar.
The DAWN story also prompted a flood of criticism of the government on social media for suppressing free speech instead of moving against those promoting violent extremism in the country.
“Hate roams free while the state chases poets, artists and journalists,” read one Twitter comment.