Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday ordered that "blasphemous" content on social media websites be removed or blocked and those posting such material "strictly punished."
Blasphemy is a criminal offence in Pakistan and can carry the death penalty. Sharif's tough talk against blasphemy will appeal to his conservative voter base ahead of elections likely to take place next year.
"Effective steps must be taken immediately to remove and block such content," the prime minister said in a statement.
He instructed Pakistan's foreign ministry to contact international foreign social media firmsand demand the blocking of blasphemous posts. He did not mention any company by name, but social networks such as Facebook Inc, its Instagramunit and rival Twitter Inc are popular in Pakistan.
"All relevant institutions must unite to hunt those who spread such material and to award them strict punishment under the law," Sharif said.
Blasphemy isa highly charged issue in Pakistan where even being accused of insulting Islam or Prophet Mohammad can provoke targeted acts of violence by religious right-wing vigilantes. Dozens have been murdered over blasphemy allegations, according to the Center for Research and Security Studies.