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Pakistan Demands Google Take Down Petition For Academic Freedom... Saying It Represents Hate Speech

While it's understandable (these days especially) that some are concerned about what they refer to as "hate speech," it's worth reminding people (as we've done for years) that laws against hate speech are almost universally used by governments to punish people they don't like, rather than to protect those who most people normally consider the targets of hate speech.

Take this latest example, highlighted by FIRE, concerning an attempt by Pakistan to censor an online petition for academic freedom, claiming that it was hate speech.

The request came from the Pakistan Telecom Authority, which cited Section 11 and Section 37 — which lay out restrictions on “hate speech” and “unlawful online content” — of Pakistan’s 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act

11. Hate speech—Whoever prepares or disseminates information, through any information system or device that advances or is likely to advance interfaith, sectarian or racial hatred shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years or with fine or with both.

[ . . . ]

Unlawful on-line content—l) The Authority shall have the power to remove or block or issue directions for removal or blocking of access to an information through any information system if it considers it necessary in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court or commission of or incitement to an offence under this Act.

So what is this horrible hate speech? It's a letter about academic freedom and free speech on campus signed by a bunch of Pakistani and American academics. The letter documents a few examples in Pakistan of attacks on academic freedom:

As faculty members and teachers, we are extremely concerned about the events that have taken place over the last few days at universities across Pakistan, which signal a closure of intellectual space within the country. Between April 12th and 13th four separate but related instances of repression took place on university campuses in different parts of the country.

In the first instance, an event entitled ‘Ethnic Rights, New Social Movements, and the State of the Federation in Pakistan,’ which was supposed to be held at Habib University in Karachi on April 13th was forcibly cancelled only an hour before the event was due to be held after a visit from state functionaries. This event was intended as a teach-in and panel discussion in which various new social movements emerging across the country would be analyzed and discussed by experts from the field. Not only was the event abruptly cancelled, one of the guest speakers was forced off campus by the university security despite the fact that it was the university that had invited him in the first place.

In the second instance, an event that was planned to be held at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, also on April 13th, which was a commemoration of the student who was brutally murdered by a mob one year ago at Abdul Wali Khan University, Mashal Khan, was also forcibly cancelled on the same day the event was due to be held. This event was planned in order for students to come together and mourn the loss of a fellow student who dedicated his short life to raising his voice in the struggle for peace and justice.

That doesn't seem to be hate speech, now, does it? So, once again, we have "hate speech" rules being used in an attempt to punish people the government doesn't like.

This, of course, is not a defense of "hate speech," but this pattern is undeniable. The nature of hate speech is such that it is frequently used by the powerful against marginalized groups. And, by definition, marginalized groups are rarely in power in the government, so it frequently does little to actually protect such groups. However, when there is no real definition of "hate speech" and it is quickly turned into "anything we don't like," it enables powerful governments to silence and punish anyone.

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