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Farmington Hills, MI, June 9, 2014 – Twitter, long-recognized for its commitment to free-speech, is now using its “Country Withheld Tool” to block “blasphemous tweets” in Pakistan, thus aiding Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and becoming complicit in suppressing free speech. Therefore, the Society for Humanistic Judaism (SHJ) has joined with other member organizations of the Secular Coalition for America and with Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) in an online protest on June 10 against Twitter’s censorship.
We urge you to speak up on June 10 about Twitter’s choice to side with theocratic regimes instead of those who are trying to resist those regimes. Use your freedom of expression, to tweet using the hashtag #TwitterTheocracy. Along with tweeting the hashtag, #TwitterTheocracy, we ask that you sign EXMNA’s petition, calling out Twitter’s complicity in censoring dissenters and aiding the theocratic agenda in Pakistan and elsewhere. The petition site has been blocked in Pakistan.
SHJ also joined other humanistic organizations in a letter to Pakistan’s United Nations ambassador protesting that nation’s anti-blasphemy laws. “As Humanistic Jews,” said SHJ Executive Director Bonnie Cousens, “we strongly support the rights of all people ‘to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,’ without interference or ‘coercion which would impair [t]his freedom,’ as asserted in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights Articles 18 and 19.” In 2012, a UN Human Rights Council resolution affirmed the protection of these rights online as well as offline.
In Pakistan and other theocratic states, blasphemy laws are key tools used by those in power to actively persecute minorities. Beginning in May, Twitter acquiesced to Pakistani officials’ requests to suspend accounts and block tweets in accordance with the country’s blasphemy law. Challenges to Pakistan’s blasphemy law already have led to arrests, killings, and assassination attempts on secularists. We urge Twitter and all other international companies and organizations to uphold human rights-based standards of conduct, particularly when it comes to freedom of expression.
There was a time when Twitter was rightly lauded for the role it played during the Arab Spring, facilitating communication between those resisting oppressive governments. In fact, Egypt’s dictators tried to disable Twitter, and then internet access completely, before being overwhelmed by the protests that began at Tahrir Square. Governments in Tunisia and Iran tried similar tactics to suppress protests against those oppressive regimes.
Lately, Twitter seems to have moved away from its ethical, pro-human-rights stance, and caved to the demands of oppressive governments. By using its ‘Country Withheld Tool’ to enable government authorities to censor content, Twitter is aiding the enforcement of laws that violate both the UN declaration as well as the secular values of the separation of church/mosque and state.
While we understand the complicated position in which Twitter and other international companies and organizations find themselves when operating in countries with oppressive regimes, as Twitter users, secularists, and those who care about human rights, we expect Twitter to be better than oppressive, theocratic regimes. Twitter was forged on the principles of open communication. Now, it has compromised the principles of freedom of expression in selected regions of the world.
If you care about freedom of expression and human rights, please speak up, join this campaign, and share the protest #TwitterTheocracy with your friends and social networks.