A tragic incident where a girl killed her sister over a TikTok quarrel is used by conservative clerics to call for a broad crackdown on social media.
by Marco Respinti
On December 29, 2023, in the village of Kariala, in the Gujrat district of Pakistan’s Punjab, 18-year-old Maria Afzal killed her younger sister Saba Afzal with a gun. The two had quarreled while shooting a video for TikTok.
The tragedy fueled a campaign by conservative Deobandi clerics to ban TikTok in Pakistan, which many see as part of a broader campaign against social media. TikTok, whose videos have some 40 million downloads per year in Pakistan, is a somewhat easier target due to well-publicized cases of depicting nudity that created widespread scandal in the country.
At the end of December, senior Deobandi clerical issued a fatwa declaring the use of TikTok “illegal and haram” for Muslims.
These efforts have been heard by the authorities, which are always afraid of possible religious riots. In 2021, TikTok was banned for five months. The ban was lifted after TikTok promised vigilance against obscene content. The High Court of Lahore has received in 2023 a petition to ban TikTok altogether.
The same conservative voices criticize Facebook, X, and other social media. All over the world, concerns have been expressed about possible abuses of social media. They are not without merits. However, in Pakistan they are also one of the few avenues persecuted minorities have to make their suffering known and protest harassment and discrimination.
They are afraid that, behind the accusations of immorality, posts denouncing the persecution of Christians, Sikhs, Ahmadis, and other minorities will also be targeted by the censorship measures advocated by Sunni Islamic radicals. A total ban on the main social media, on the other hand, would deprive Pakistani minorities of one of the few opportunities they still have to make their voice heard.