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By Sabeen Mahmud.By Sabeen Mahmud.“Our research over the past three year suggests that Pakistan governmentalways hide filtering and censorship of internet behind religion and blasphemous material, however, the ulterior motive would always be political
or veiling the corruption. There is ample evidence on how in the past, these bans and filters have been used to hide the corrupt practices of the government and its functionaries being shown on the internet on Youtube, Flickr and Facebook”, says Bytes For All, a South Asian network of internet rights activists with representatives in Pakistan.

After hearing of the case on May 31 2010, the Lahore High Court directed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), Ministry of IT and Telecommunication and all concerned authorities to devise a permanent mechanism to monitor and control access over content on the internet. The order noted that “There are many and numerous countries with majority Muslim populations, who have many sustainable and effective mechanisms in place which block or deny to the general public access to such blasphemous contents. The examples of such countries could include the countries of majority of Muslim population in Middle East and Asia.” The guidelines for implementation of the monitoring and control mechanisms the order suggests can be adopted fromthese countries.

The Ministry of IT and Telecommunication (MoITT) and PTA have been ordered to submit “a summary of effective monitoring, control and implementation guidelines regarding access to such blasphemous and objectionable contents available over the internet”.

The Court has also ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to direct Pakistan’s Permanent Ambassador to the UN in New York to present a resolution in the UN General Assembly with regards to the blasphemous material on Facebook. In case of non-compliance of this direction, the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be required to appear in person to explain why he has not complied with the directions of the Court.

“We condemn the blasphemous content and hate speech,” says Bytes For All “but we urge the government to stop blocking and filtering of the internet as it will curb people’s economic and social well-being. Islam is a religion of peace and harmony, so immediate steps should be taken to stop increasing religion-based violence in the country – the internet and internet-based technologies can help a great deal in this regard.”

Bytes for All and defenders of internet rights in Pakistan were greatly concerned about the judgment by the Lahore High Court on the recent internet ban in Pakistan that was imposed during 19-31 May 2010 and left numerous social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube inaccessible by Pakistani internet users. The court had demanded a ban of Facebook due to few pages of sacrilegious nature but the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) proactively banned most major social networking sites and other essential internet resources including Wikipedia and Flickr.

The filtering measures brought internet speeds almost to a halt and Pakistanis experienced extremely slow connections. The blanket ban meant that online academic activities also stopped as students of the Virtual University in Pakistan were deprived of their course material uploaded on YouTube.

Study on internet censorship in Pakistan (Click on Pakistan)

Facebook ban in Pakistan is shocking, says Bytes For All APCNews, May 25 2010.

Note: This article was corrected on June 9 after a draft version was erroneously posted on Jun 8. We apologise.


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