Imran Khan

So, there I was writing an article on blasphemy and censorship (my Observer column, to be published tomorrow), when an email from Twitter Legal dropped into my inbox. It began:

We are writing to inform you that Twitter has received official correspondence regarding your Twitter account, @kenanmalik.

The correspondence claims that the following Tweet, is illegal:

The tweet to which it refers was a link to the Jesus and Mo cartoon shown at the top. The email continued:

Twitter has not taken any action on the reported content at this time. We are only writing to inform you of content posted to your account which has been mentioned in a complaint.


We may be obligated to take action regarding the content identified in the complaint in the future. Please let us know by replying to this email as soon as possible if you decide to voluntarily remove the content identified on your account.

It is, I think, a standard Twitter legal notice. I have no idea who complained or why. Pandaemonium has already banned in Pakistan after WordPress received an email from the  ‘Web Analysis Team’ of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) that claimed ‘The webpages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan’. The PTA claimed, too, that Pandaemonium is ‘in violation of Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and Section 19 of Constitution of Pakistan’. It ordered WordPress to block access to my website in Pakistan in order ‘to contribute towards maintaining peace and harmony in the world’. Which is why readers in Pakistan can no longer access Pandaemonium.

The Twitter complaint may also be from Pakistan, but Twitter has so provided no details. I have written to Twitter in response:

Thank you for your email informing me about a complaint that my tweet linking to a Jesus and Mo cartoon was ‘illegal’. I would appreciate it if you could provide more details about who made the complaint and for what reason.


I cannot see anything illegal or, in the slightest sense reprehensible or problematic, about either the tweet or the cartoon. The cartoon is making a perfectly valid point in a perfectly reasonable way. Any legal jurisdiction that would ban such a tweet can itself only be described as reprehensible and problematic.


I have no intention of ‘voluntarily removing the content’. And if Twitter were forcibly to remove the tweet, it would suggest not only that it holds no brief for freedom of expression, but that it appears no longer to believe in hosting public conversation or debate either. I hope that is not the case, and that Twitter continues to provide a valuable public service.

I will keep you informed of any developments.


  1. jswagner

    The illegal mien or image assertion needs to be dealt with more formally and explicitly at the UN. This banning mentality confers too much right or influence to sovereign nations’ sensibilities. It appears to be a moral or religious issue, but is actually a sovereign question, apparently of interest to some countries to root in law. It needs to be addressed clearly in international law as not enforceable outside the sovereign. If Twitter was violating international agreements over representations when they banned content internationally, it would slow their trigger finger. International leadership would overcome certain frothy conservatives, and pockets of the far left.

  2. damon

    Where do they mean it’s illegal? In some country? Illegal on Twitter?
    If it was against their terms and conditions, it seems odd to use the word “illegal”.

    These huge tech companies need to be regualated more so that freedom of speech is better protected.
    Otherwise they can just can just end up doing whatever is expedient for their businesses.

    • I assume that Twitter has received a notice from some authority in some country, possibly Pakistan, that the cartoon, and the link is ‘illegal’. But I still have no further information.

      • damon

        Does this mean twitter is suggesting that people should always regard the laws of the most backward places on Earth, just in case something you might say is illegal there?
        That cannot be what they want for their business. All kinds of things are illegal in different countries.

    Really, sorry to hear about this Kenan. This is not going away anytime soon. The defining characteristic of our age has become the silencing of speech and expression in the name of ‘tolerance’ and ‘respect’. Like you keep reminding us, this phenomenon can be traced from from the 1989 and the unfortunate response of ‘Liberals’ and the ‘Left’ to the banning of the Satanic Verses. The consequences are not just to writers or cartoonists. The effects of this are felt acutely by all of us who are dependent for our well being on open societies and healthy democracies. This is the way civilizations collapse into barbarism. Really, why would anyone be surprised about what the Saudis did to Khashoggi? How hollow is our indignation when we cannot stand up for unpopular free expression when feelings are hurt?

    • Thanks. It is a not a major problem for me (so far, at least) but it is for those fighting for democracy, free speech and equal rights in countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia or Saudi Arabia. It’s they whom we betray when those of us who live in liberal democracies refuse to defend free speech.

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