Baloch users of Twitter face ‘clampdown’ as many accounts of Baloch activists, leaders and organisations have been partially restricted or fully suspended.
Twitter took the action against many accounts, including some famous handles, on Thursday night causing uproar among other Baloch tweeps.
The clampdown comes only days after Pakistan’s telecom authority threatened to ban Twitter altogether in Pakistan if it does not comply with the directives to block objectionable content.
No details of the objectionable content were provided when the ‘final warning’ to Twitter was given. However, it now appears Pakistan was referring to Baloch users active on Twitter.
The Balochistan Post (TBP) has learnt that many Baloch accounts were also given warnings or had to recover their accounts after following a process to provide additional security details and phone numbers in last few days.
TBP itself become a victim of the clampdown and had to recover its handles multiple times. TBP is one of the only, if not the only, independent media networks in Balochistan, where an information black hole exists due to suppression of independent journalism.
Scores of journalists have been killed or gone missing in Balochistan since early 2000s. According to Amnesty International (AI) more than a dozen journalists have been killed in Balochistan for doing their jobs since 2008. AI also considers the province as the hardest place in the country for human rights researchers to operate.
Since early 2011, scores of Baloch journalists, activists and organisations have been using Twitter to report freely about current situation in Balochistan. Many of the activists use pseudo names to hide their identity due to security concerns.
Some of the famous accounts that were suspended or partially restricted include but are not limited to the following:
@BNMovement_: Balochistan’s largest peaceful political mass party that supports the idea of an independent Balochistan.
@ChairmanKhalil: Official Twitter handle for Chairman Khalil Baloch, the Chairman of Baloch National Movement (BNM).
@BalochNatFront: Baloch National Front is an alliance between BNM and peaceful student party Baloch Students Organisation – Azad (BSO-A).
@DrAllahNizar: Official Twitter handle of Balochistan’s most famous Baloch leader. Dr Nizar is founder of BSO-A but currently heads Balochistan’s most active armed group Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF).
Accounts of armed groups BLF and Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) were fully suspended, whereas, accounts of many political activists were either suspended or partially restricted. Few of the accounts have since been recovered.
Uproar among Baloch Twitter users:
Many Baloch Twitter users and others have been strongly protesting against the clampdown since last night, calling the act an unjustified suppression of freedom of speech.
@KarlosZurutuza: An international reporter tweeted: “Pakistani pressure makes Twitter suspend accounts of #Baloch political parties and prominent leaders. This is one of the very few windows to break an outrageous media blackout. #Balochistan”
@BalaachMarri, an active Twitter user tweeted: “Outrageous: @Twitter succumbs to Pakistani pressure, shuts down major #Balochistan related accounts. The persecuted Baloch people now have no right to tweet their grievances.”
@Pirdhan_Baloch, an active Twitter user said: “By shutting down Baloch political activist and pro-Balochistan accounts @Twitter is supporting Pakistan’s attempt to curb information about ongoing Pakistan’s war crimes in Balochistan. Dear @TwitterSupport Be the voice of the voiceless”
@Faiz_Baluch: another active Twitter user condemned the suspension and said: “RIP Freedom of Expression! @Twitter shuts down several accounts of #Baloch activists and political organizations on behest of fascist state of #Pakistan. Twitter was the only medium of information for the people of #Balochistan, which is widely known as ‘Information black hole’.”
@HakeemWadhela: a political activist and organizer of BNM in London tweeted: “Dear @Twitter Baloch liberation struggle can’t be suppressed. Even if you suspend all our accounts, but no body can stop the Baloch freedom fighters in battle fields or the Baloch political activists on the streets. #StruggleTillVictory”
@MMATalpur: a renowned columnist tweeted: “#UnjustAction
Baloch Voices are being Suppressed even by #Twitter; Baloch are used to curbs by #Pakistan.”
@Sohaib_Baluch: A member of BNM tweeted: “The voiceless Baloch who found a limited voice on Twitter do not have it anymore as Twitter suspends handles of many Baloch activists, leaders and organisations.”
@Niaz_Zehri: A member of BNM and former leader of BSO-A said: “Media is black out in #Balochistan by the Pakistani military. Social media is the only tool to highlight war crimes and human rights violations from the affected areas, but its sad to see that @Twitter is following the path of Pakistan and suppressing the voice of Baloch nation.”
@SikandarQambar: Another member of BNM and former leader of BSO-A said: “All baloch should strongly condemn @twitter for blocking the twitter handles of the most popular baloch political party @BNMovement and other organisations and leaders.