14-year jail term for SMS joke on Pak president

14-year jail term for SMS joke on Pak president



If you mistakenly, or just for fun, share with a friend one of the hundreds of derisory jokes about the leader floating around electronically, you could get a 14-year prison sentence.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced last week that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been tasked to trace SMS (or text messages) and e-mails that “slander the political leadership of the country” under the vague Cyber Crimes Act.
In addition to facing up to 14 years in the jail, violators could have their property seized, Malik said, adding that the government would seek Interpol assistance in deporting foreign offenders.

Surrounded by controversy throughout his political career, Zardari has been a subject of harsh public criticism since he was elected as president by the national parliament a year ago.

Most of the criticism stems from his government’s sluggishness in addressing problems such as severe power outages, intolerably fast-rising inflation, and a sputtering economy.

But many jokes hint that Zardari still acts as “Mr 10 percent” — a label referring to the percentage he would allegedly receive in kickbacks in the 1990s during his wife Benazir Bhutto’s tenure as prime minister.

One such joke portrays a school for demons at roll call. All the demons report for class, except one named Zardari. When the demon teacher asks where Zardari is, a student replies that he has “gone to rob Pakistan”.

Another joke claims that the words that most frighten Zardari are the slogan: “Bhutto is still alive.” It is a mantra his party workers chant often in public meetings, but it can be interpreted to mean it is unfortunate for the nation that Bhutto died and Zardari became president.

Political implications

Most of the hundreds of jokes shared by 50 million SMS users of the about 80 million mobile phone customers seem innocuous but can have disastrous political implications for Zardari, who according to some recent surveys is already highly unpopular among the public.

Local media, human rights activists and bloggers have been swift in criticising the proposed law against anti-government SMS and online texts as “draconian and authoritarian”.

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