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By Sabeen Mahmud.By Sabeen Mahmud.Pakistanis woke up on Thursday, May 20 to find sites like Facebook and YouTube blocked after a government crackdown on “blasphemous” websites. APC member Bytes For All issued the following statement through APC:

APC member Bytes For All and its members are shocked at the blanket ban exercised on Facebook in Pakistan. With the ongoing campaign of Muslim Facebook users against “Draw Mohammed Day”, a campaign urging Facebookers to sarcastically draw the caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the Lahore High Court today ordered Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block Facebook in Pakistani cyberspace until the next hearing of the case, scheduled on May 31 2010.

We consider this blanket ban of the website unnecessary, based on wrongful accusations, against civil liberties and it will further instigate hatred among international Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

We believe that the court was misinformed by the lawyers or supporting technical persons that the specific URL block is not possible, and as a result the entire site is blocked because of a single hate-speech page.

Responding to this as quoted in Dawn Newspaper, Mr. Wahaj-us-Siraj, Convener of Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan said “basically, our judges aren’t technically sound. They have just ordered it, but it should have been done in a better way than by just blocking a particular URL or link.”

“Blocking the entire website would anger users, especially youth and adults, because the social networking website is so popular among them and they spend most of their time on it.”

Ms. Nighat Dad, Advocate High Court and renown women’s rights advocate said “the petitioners [those who took the banning of Facebook to the Court] have in fact imputed Facebook for such “blasphemous” reporting, as they have no expertise/know-how in relation to the use of information technology, and especially using internet. Therefore, the Court may have been misled by the main petitioner, and as a result, the court order may have extensive negative effects related to internet governance in Pakistan.

Facebook is extremely popular among internet users in Pakistan. The court was told today that there are about 4.3 million Facebook users in Pakistan. However, as per the total number of Pakistani users is around 2.35 million. According to, it is third most accessed website from Pakistan.

Bytes For All is also shocked about the argument given in the court on May 20 – that since China, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates blocked Facebook, Pakistan should also do the same. We believe that Pakistan, as a democratic country, is different to the mentioned dictatorial regimes. These countries block Facebook in order to prevent social mobilisation against dictators for democracy.

Sana Saleem, a young blogger from Karachi who writes for Global Voices also said “the ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ campaign appears to be nothing more than a desperate attempt to incite and provoke Muslims – let’s not give them the satisfaction.”

On the blanket ban of the Facebook, Sana said “the ban has left me dumbfounded. I mean the Country’s high court has chosen to overlook a thousand piled up cases and react to a campaign on a social networking site? Truly ironic. This whole mess has only added more fuel to the fire and has given the campaign a publicity boost.”

Dr. Awab Alvi, the most famous political blogger in Pakistan said “why should the people of Pakistan suffer for an action committed elsewhere, it may have better been to order a Pakistani lawyer to represent the people of Pakistan, filing a lawsuit in the jurisdiction of Facebook and accusing them of having violated their own terms of service listed on their own website. It may have taught them a lesson not to repeat such a mistake again. Little good this ban shall do now in Pakistan.”

In a twitter message from abroad, Jehan Ara, President P@SHA said “it’s ridiculous to ban Facebook. Who does it hurt but us? Suddenly Pakistanis have lost use of a social networking tool. When will sense prevail?”

Worried about possible violent clashes on the issue in the country, Fariha Akhtar, an IT Professional, Take Back the Tech! campaigner and women rights activist said “I consider blocking Facebook as a protest to a religious hatred group similar to burying your head in the sand. I want to join the Facebook group to “Honour the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W)” and to record a peaceful protest to that hatred group but I cannot. The solution to the problem is not in turning your eyes away from the problem but in facing it head on and figuring out ways to SOLVE it so that it does not happen again. While I’m an advocate of freedom of expression, I also believe in respecting others’ beliefs and do not approve of violence of any kind, be it Holocaust or continuous attacks on the character of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Websites like Facebook should follow their policies that do not allow any sort of racism and should immediately delete all sorts of hatred groups. Furthermore, I appeal anti-violence activists from across the world to reject all forms of hate speech that can result in extreme violence.”

Due to media frenzy, the situation in the country on this issue is getting increasingly heated with the passage of time. Local media is further hyping things up based solely on emotional grounds, without understanding the actual dynamics of the Facebook Ban. We have yet to witness rational discussion on this issue.

It is very unfortunate that a few of the civil rights activists against this ban have already gotten death threats or are being accused of blasphemy.

Adding more fuel to the fire, different religious leaders have called for the government to order total ban on diplomatic, social and economic relations with the West. Without understanding the core issue, different religious political parties have moved their youth wings in colleges and universities to demonstrate against Facebook, which can result in violent clashes and loss of life and property as was witnessed during Danish caricatures saga.

The Facebook ban also impacted Google search engine, which was temporarily blocked, as well as Wikipedia. The popular video streaming site, Youtube, is now also inaccessible from the country. Other services like Blackberry that were also blocked are now slowly coming back, however cell phone bandwidth also blocks Facebook and Youtube.

While we stand for civil liberties and open net in the country, Pakistani internet users are the ones who suffer, while hate speech mongers and extremist on both sides continue to gain more ground. Let’s hope that sanity prevails in the long run!

Useful Resources

PTA’s Orders to Block Facebook

Sana Saleems’s Blog

Dr. Awab Alvi’s Blog

Reuters: Pakistan blocks Facebook over caricatures

Express Tribune: Access denied: PTA blocks Facebook

Dawn Newspaper: LHC orders ban on Facebook over caricatures

This image and others from “Sabeen Mahmud”: