While many of us in the West use VPN and similar privacy enhancing technologies to pirate the odd movie and do a bit of one handed web surfing, in many parts of the world privacy is a matter of life and death.
This is something that was tragically illustrated a couple of weeks ago in the town of Gujranwala, 220 km southeast of the Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, when a woman and her two granddaughters (a baby and a seven year old) where burned to death in their home by a mob, following comments made by a member of their minority Ahmadiyya religious community on Facebook.
Ahmadiyya is an Islamic religious movement which believes in a prophet after Mohammed. Most Muslim Pakistanis consider this to a heretical belief, and in 1984 Ahmadi’s were declared non-Muslim in Pakistan, and are forbidden by law from saying the Muslim greeting, or referring to their places of worship as ‘mosques’.
On Sunday July 24 an ‘altercation’ occurred between young Ahmadi men and conventional Muslim youths over a Facebook post by made by one of the Ahmadi’s, which allegedly contained ‘objectionable material’, and which lead mobs to attack the houses of Ahmadi community members.
‘Later, a crowd of 150 people came to the police station demanding the registration of a blasphemy case against the accused. As police were negotiating with the crowd, another mob attacked and started burning the houses of Ahmadis.’
One Ahmadi described the scene,
‘The attackers were looting and plundering, taking away fans and whatever valuables they could get hold of and dragging furniture into the road and setting fire to it… Some were continuously firing into the air. A lot of policemen arrived but they stayed on the sidelines and didn’t intervene.’
The youth originally accused of blasphemy on Facebook was unharmed, which serves as a sobering reminder that comments made on the internet can not only harm those making the comments, but those around them.
We strongly urge anyone living in repressive countries where their political and religious view can cause harm to themselves, their loved ones, and their community at large, to be guarded about what they say in public (which includes posts made on social media websites such as Facebook), and to learn how to make their online lives private through the use of technologies such as VPN.
As we discuss in this article, however (and VPN would not have prevented this tragedy from happening), protecting privacy on the internet requires more than simply technological tools – it requires common sense, a certain amount of deviousness, and a general awareness all factors that may be used to unmask an individual’s identity.
Please be careful out there.