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UPDATE 4-Pakistan's PM takes aim at Macron; asks Facebook to ban Islamophobic content

26 Oct 2020 / 18:48 H.

    (Adds summoning of French ambassador in Islamabad)

    By Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

    ISLAMABAD, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan called on Facebook to ban Islamophobic content on its platform, warning of a spike in radicalisation amongst Muslims, hours after he hit out at the French president for "attacking Islam".

    Pakistan summoned the French ambassador in Islamabad as anger spread on Monday over President Emmanuel Macron's reaction to the murder last week of a French teacher by an Islamist.

    Khan, in an open letter posted on Twitter on Sunday, said "growing Islamophobia" was encouraging extremism and violence worldwide, especially through social media platforms such as Facebook.

    "I would ask you to place a similar ban on Islamophobia and hate against Islam for Facebook that you have put in place for the Holocaust," Khan said.

    This month, Facebook said it was updating its hate speech policy to ban content that denied or distorted the Holocaust.

    "One cannot send a message that while hate messages against some are unacceptable, these are acceptable against others," Khan said, adding such a stance was "reflective of prejudice and bias that will encourage further radicalisation".

    In response, a Facebook spokeswoman told Reuters the company opposed all forms of hate and did not allow attacks based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.

    "We'll remove this hate speech as soon as we become aware of it," the spokeswoman said in a statement, adding that Facebook had "more work to do".

    Facebook's last transparency report for the six months to December 2019, showed that Pakistan was the source of the second highest number of requests to curb content after Russia.

    A source with direct knowledge of the issue at Facebook told Reuters that the most requests for the removal of content relating to Islam came from Pakistan, exceeding other Muslim-majority countries.

    Facebook traditionally complies, as not doing so would be to break Pakistan's laws, the source said, adding that authorities would often send dozens of links at a time and demand they be taken down.

    'ATTACKING ISLAM'

    In his letter, Khan also referred to the situation in France, where, he said, Islam was being associated with terrorism.

    Khan said Macron had "attacked Islam" by encouraging the display of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

    Khan's comments came after Macron paid tribute to a French history teacher beheaded by an Islamist radical who wanted to avenge the use of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a class on freedom of expression.

    Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the French ambassador in Islamabad had been summoned to be given a diplomatic protest against Macron's "irresponsible remarks".

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also criticised Marcon, saying last week the French president needed mental help over his attitude towards Muslims. France then recalled its ambassador to Turkey.

    Pakistan and Turkey share strong ties, while Khan and Erdogan have developed a close relationship - particularly on the topic of Islamophobia.

    Khan's letter to Facebook and comments on Macron come as he faces pressure from a newly formed coalition of opposition parties seeking to oust him.

    The cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, first published in 2005 by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, have long been a sensitive topic among Muslims, stirring protests in Pakistan and elsewhere.

    Tens of thousands of people protested in Pakistan last month when the cartoons were republished by the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

    Khan's government has subjected a number of social media apps to intense scrutiny and banned some for content authorities deemed obscene or immoral. (Reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin, Lawrence Delevingne and Kanishka Singh; Editing by Euan Rocha, Robert Birsel)

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