Pakistan became the second South Asian country after India to ban the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok.
On October 9, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority banned TikTok in the country after ByteDance, the Chinese tech giant that owns TikTok, failed to put in place an effective mechanism to control obscenity, vulgarity and the ‘immorality via its social media app, despite a final warning issued by the official regulator in July.
The question now is whether the Islamabads’ decision to ban TikTok will impact China-Pakistan friendship, especially at a time when India, Pakistan’s nemesis, has already shut down the app in amid growing tensions on the Sino-Indian border in the Himalayas? India banned TikTok in June on the pretext of data privacy concerns, calling it a threat to national security. Of course, whatever the Islamabads’ reason for banning TikTok, the timing for such a decision is hardly favorable to strengthening the Sino-Pakistani strategic partnership and their convergence of interests, especially to counter India.
It is not only indecency or vulgarity that is the main reason for governments’ decision to ban the app, but the accusation of blasphemous content.
TikTok is very popular among young Pakistanis, who post their short videos and earn money to create content. TikTok was the third most downloaded app (after WhatsApp and Facebook) in the past year in Pakistan, bringing in 20 million monthly active users in the country. Activists criticized the government for denying people the right to express themselves in the name of a campaign against vulgarity. By order of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country’s telecommunications authorities have already banned five dating apps, including Tinder and Grindr, in an attempt to block what they call vulgar content.
Khan has been at the forefront of the movement to ban TikTok for promoting indecency and harming social values. It is part of Khan’s vision to rebuild Pakistan on the model state of Medinah established by the Prophet of Islam 1,400 years ago. How can Khan allow such technology to undermine Islamic values in a country founded with its religious identity at heart?
It is not only indecency or vulgarity that is the main reason for governments’ decision to ban the app, but the accusation of blasphemous content. Blasphemy is an extremely sensitive topic in the country, where 97% of the population is Muslim and an accusation of blasphemy, whether false or unproven, runs the very real risk of deadly assault at the hands of a frenzied mob. . Under state blasphemy laws, desecrating the Holy Quran or defaming the Prophet of Islam is a crime punishable by death.
But it is in fact not the blasphemy law but its abuse that has been the real problem in the country. In July, for example, a teenager shot dead a 57-year-old US citizen who was on trial for blasphemy in a crowded courtroom in the city of Peshawar, northwest Pakistan.
So, while the Pakistanis’ decision to block TikTok claims to be justified on social grounds, it could also be exploited by critics from a political angle, amid mounting tensions in the Himalayas. Either way, the timing is intriguing and doesn’t send Beijing a good message.
At a time when India has already done so, Pakistan’s ban on TikTok raises many questions: Can Pakistan convince the Chinese leadership that this is a reasonable move, and China? will she accept such a motive? If Khan can go so far as to ban a Chinese application on the basis of damaging Islamic values, will he condemn the treatment that China has reserved for Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang?
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