Friday, May 21, 2010

Pakistan -- Crackdown on Social Networking Sites

Late Wednesday evening, May 19th the popular Social Networking site Facebook was declared banned by Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) after a court order was issued by the Lahore High Court (LHC). The move was in response to a page on the site called "Everyone Draw Mohammad Day", exhorting Facebook users to draw the caricature of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him), in the hope of spurning debate to Muslim objections to images of their faiths founder.

The following day, May 20th reports started coming in that the Social Video sharing site, YouTube and the online FREE and popular encyclopedia Wikipedia had joined the list of PTA blacklisted sites. In the latest round of belligerent attacks, Twitter another popular Social Networking site was blocked at mid-night on Friday, May 21st, U.S. / Pacific Time. 

In the immediate aftermath of the Facebook blockade, various members from Pakistan's Technology, Business and Civil Society launched a nation wide campaign in defense of Internet Freedom. On May 21st, under the leadership of Awab Alvi and Sabeen Mahmud a Press Conference was held at the Karachi Press Club. Additionally, after a brief exchange of tweets between Abdulrahman Rafiq, Ramla Aktar, Awab Alvi, and Sabahat Ashraf the Internet Censorship Wiki page was launched.  The Wiki serves as a means to document, disseminate and evaluate damages that might arise or have arisen from the Internet blockade.

In today's highly connected world, where individuals and business use Social Media and Social Networking  to influence decisions, restricting access has far reaching economic consequences that can effect the countries Business health for years to come. It's appalling how the court, PTA, and Ministry of IT have shown little regard to this  fact.

Since May 18th, the PTA has restricted access to over a 1,000 websites from Pakistan. Websites have never been blocked in such a large number before. The Government is jcracking down on any website that it finds promoting Draw Muhammad Day campaign. Even the Websites promoting Facebook Proxies have been blocked.

Regardless of the reason, no Government body has the right to restrict it's citizens access to the internet. It is, as stipulated in the Constitution of Pakistan,
Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press
Additionally, as Sabahat Ashraf pointed out on a Facebook comment,
Constitutions are written exactly so that a simple majority of citizens--or a vocal minority driving public opinion--does not do things that are immoral, unethical, inhumane, or adverse to the long-term interests of a community. Speech is not free until people are free to say things that the majority does NOT want to hear.
Article 19: Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. 

*Image by Sabeen Mahmud, sent via Twitter. Apparently Maxcom and a few other ISP's in Pakistan continue to allow limited access to Twitter. 

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