Don’t Block the Blog

Speaking up Against Internet Censorship, the world over

March 25, 2006

Pakistan’s Blog Blockade

Jeff Morly

Published in The Washington Post by Jeff Morley

“Americans will support the Pakistani people as they take further steps toward democracy,” declared President Bush at a state dinner in Pakistan last Saturday.

One of those steps, say two Pakistani bloggers, would be to restore the country’s access a huge number of blogs on the Internet. As Bush spoke, Pakistan’s Internet service providers (ISP) were blocking Pakistanis from viewing of many blogs on the grounds that a handful of them displayed the Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that many Muslims regard as blasphemous.

The Pakistani Telecommunications Authority instituted the blog blockade on the orders of the Supreme Court , according to the Pakistani daily Dawn.

“Instructions were issued to internet service providers across Pakistan on 27 February to block about a dozen websites of various origins,” the BBC reported last week. Some of these sites were Web logs hosted by the U.S. firm Blogger (which is owned by Google) and uses the extension on its Web addresses.

Under pressure from the government, Pakistani providers wound up blocking access not only to the 12 offending cartoon sites , but to all Blogspot Web logs. In protest, Dr. Awab Alvi, an orthodontist in Karachi, and Omer Alvie (no relation), a political humorist based in Dubai, launched a Don’t Block the Blog campaign.

In an e-mail interview, Dr. Alvi says that until now, Pakistani bloggers had not come under attack. Ironically, Alvi had used his own blog to call for peaceful protest against the Danish cartoons , saying they were the culmination of five years of anti-Muslim agitation since the September 11 attack. His blog, Teeth Maestro, was not blocked.

In a separate interview, blogger Alvie writes that his blog, Olive Ream, remains blocked and that the blockade is affecting “hundreds of other blogs that were actually protesting (in the most civil and logical way) the printing of the controversial cartoon of Prophet Mohammad, considering the current global political climate.”

As of Wednesday morning, both bloggers said computer users in a Pakistan remained unable to directly access a blog hosted on Blogspot without the use of so-called anonymizer sites, which conceal a user’s country of origin. A spokesman for Google said the company “has been contacting a range of individuals in Pakistan, including in the government, to determine what’s causing the unavailability of Blogspot, and to get access restored.”

Postscript: One lingering question is just how many blogs are getting blocked by Pakistan. A solid estimate is hard to come by, but a Google spokeswoman says Blogspot hosts “millions” of Web logs.

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