As a long time activists working for a free and open Internet in Pakistan, I would like to join Reporters Sans Frontieres in highlighting the World Day Against Cyber Censorship today 12th March. This event is intended to rally everyone in support of a single Internet that is unrestricted and accessible to all. It is also meant to draw attention to the fact that, by creating new spaces for exchanging ideas and information, the Internet is a force for freedom.
The Internet in Pakistan is controlled by the bureaucracy within the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the people of Pakistan remain at the behest of their discretion on what is permissible and what is not permissible in Pakistan. PTA is quite definitely influenced by the mighty and powerful rulers of our country and enforce censorship on specific websites that they may deem themselves to be offensive.
Historically internet censorship took a plunge for the worst in 2006 when the Supreme Court in Pakistan decided to block 12 specific websites for carrying the offensive Prohpet Muhammad (PBUH) Cartoons which were published by a danish newspaper. PTA should have blocked the particular website but instead blocked the entire blogspot.com domain which resulted in millions of blogs which were hosted on blogspot.com blocked to internet users in Pakistan. In an uproar the bloggers in Pakistan voiced their anger across the world wide web and it also lead to the formation of Don’t Block the Blog which became the front runner in providing verbal resistance to this blanket censorship. The tussle with PTA last over year, only removed when Google obliged to switch their IP addresses while doing a technical upgrade on their servers, PTA simply did not react and blogspot was yet again open to the general public.
Ever since 2006 we have actively monitored the workings of PTA and it has been seen that it remains at the beck and call of dictators, rulers, the mighty, the powerful, and the rich and famous in Pakistan obliging them with blanket censorship when something irritating or defamatory crops up on the Internet against them. There are effectively no ground rules or principles which are followed by the PTA and it is generally seen that a simple notifications is issued to all ISP’s in Pakistan ordering them to initiate a block on a particular URL, the users are to discover only by accident, if they happen to stumble upon the website.
The hypocrisy of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is blatantly evident by the fact that in an Islamic state of Pakistan millions of pornographic websites remain fully accessible to the users in Pakistan, yet the PTA chooses to leverage its authority on suppressing freedom of expression against the corrupt rulers, or merely censoring reports of human rights issues, all based on the whim of the rulers of the country.
It is my position that the internet should be free and open to the People of Pakistan allowing the people to harness this boundless platform for creating new spaces for exchanging ideas and information, the Internet should be considered as a force for freedom and looked upon as a tool for progressing the growth of a struggling nation. Join Reporters without Borders in joining hands for the World Day Against Censorship