Pakistan forced down apps created by an oppressed religious minority

In the last two years, The Pakistani government has forced Google and Apple to launch applications created by other ethnic developers who are part of a repressive religious minority.

A part of the move Crackdown Led by the country’s telecommunications regulator, targeting the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. Following the name of Ahmadis, the number of Pakistanis is about 4 million. Although Ahmadis are identified as Muslims, the Pakistani government treats them as religious, and a 1974 ordinance prohibits them from “posting” as Muslims, adopting Islamic rites, and referring their places of worship as mosques. Pakistan is the only country that has declared that Ahmadis are not Muslims.

Ahmadis have faced persecution for decades In 2010, 99 people were killed in an attack. However, Pakistan’s telecom regulator, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), signaled pressure from multinational technology companies. A new desire Targeting religious minorities beyond its borders. This is one of the first instances of the government using anti-condemnation rules to force international technology companies to censor content.

The issue includes seven religious apps created by the Ahmadiyya community in the United States called “Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.”

Three of the applications have “exactly the same [Arabic] The text is universally available in all editions of the Holy Qur’an, “he said. They are still available in app stores in other countries. All this has been brought down by Google in Pakistan. Also, there are four more apps, including an FAQ about Islam and a weekly Urdu-language news magazine, that the PTA is pushing Google to remove, but they have not been taken down.

Asked to comment, a PTA spokesman directed BuzzFeed News on the department’s website.

“Our services make search results, videos, applications and other content subject to legal considerations in accordance with local human rights standards,” a Google spokesman told BuzzFeed News. “Whenever appropriate we challenge the government’s order and we try to do so in the most obstructive way possible when it comes to removing our applications and other types of content that do not violate our policy.”

Apple did not respond to a request for comment, but Apple issued a notice to developers on May 1, 2012 stating that it was removing one of their applications from a Pakistani store because it contained “illegal content.”

According to a PTA, Pakistan sent a takedown notice to Ahmadi content on Google and Wikipedia on December 25, 2020. Press release. Harris Zafar, a spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the United States, said Google had rejected an application for the Koran two days later. (There was no indication that Wikipedia had dropped any Ahmadi content in response to the request, but the Wikimedia Foundation did not return a request for comment.)

A few weeks later, a group of Ahmadi community leaders spoke to Google executives.

“[Google] They indicated that they had raised human rights concerns in the PTA but were told that they would have to close their business in Pakistan if they did not remove the Ahmadi content, ”Zafar said. “We must have been surprised … we once wondered what they would do after raising the human rights issue.”

The PTA has ordered the closure of a US-based Ahmadi site,, administ is threatening its administrators with 3 million fine criminal charges. The decision cannot be implemented as the people who run the site, including Zafar, are not in Pakistan. However, this means that if they travel there, they may face complaints, which means that Zafar will not be able to see his extended family.

“This is nothing short of a misleading development and an attempt to arm Pakistan’s condemnation law against US citizens,” wrote a lawyer who represented the site’s administrators in a letter to Pakistani authorities.

Pakistan is one Including several countries China, Vietnam, Germany, Nigeria, And Russia, There are rules for data localization for more control over technical platforms. When technical companies store data or have offices in a country, they must comply with local laws.

PTA New rules issued Late last year it gave a wider ability to block content online. These rules allow the censorship of content online that could harm the government in its view or pose a threat to Pakistan’s security.

The Asia Internet Coalition, an industry group whose members include Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google, wrote a letter to the regulator on December 5 opposing the decision, saying the rules “would prevent Pakistani citizens from accessing a free and open Internet.”

Zafar said that PTA201 has been pushing Google since 2018 and Apple since 2012. Ahmadi developers have created other versions of the Quran application since 2003, each of which followed the PTA’s guidelines.

Google launched the Ahmadiyya community’s first Quran application in September 2018. Google reinstated the app after receiving objections and held a meeting between the company and the developer next March.

According to the meeting note, a Google executive wanted to know if he would consider removing the word “Muslim” from their names to avoid objecting to the Pakistani government.

“No,” replied one of Zafar’s colleagues, an Ahmadi lawyer. “This decision will have a major impact, a precedent that will allow Pakistan to continue this trend due to its legitimacy from one of the world’s major corporations.”

The meeting ended without a solution, Zafar said, and in October 2019, Google dropped the app again. Apple removed the same app from its store in May.

Zafar said he was disappointed.

“All Google has censored PTA’s capital and our community,” Zafar said. “It adds to the human rights violations against us because it legitimizes the basis of Pakistan’s oppression. If there is an alternative solution we would like to hear from them, but to date Google has not offered any alternative. “

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