For a Free and Open Internet

Flag of the World
The Internet has woven the world into a global village

The Internet has become an integral part of the modern world, so much so that a United Nations stated that access to the Internet is a basic human rights!

But the Pakistani government uses Internet censorship quite often to censor websites that may insult Islam, mock the government, expose corruption and inefficiencies of the government, excesses committed by the Pakistani armed forces, intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies, separatist movements within Pakistan etc. In the recent years, this censorship has become widespread, and intolerable.

From social networks like Facebook and Twitter to Video sharing sites like YouTube and online music/radio services like Last.fm and blogging services and platforms like Blogger, all have faced the wrath of the Pakistani government. Sometimes the block comes through a Court Order by a High Court or the Supreme Court or sometimes through a notification by the Interior Ministry or Information and Broadcasting Ministry and sometimes even directly through the Prime Minister Secretariat.

My letter to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority regarding legality of Internet Censorship in Pakistan.
My letter to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority regarding legality of Internet Censorship in Pakistan.

Today I sent an email to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) inquiring about the legality of the Internet censorship in Pakistan. The query was an exercise of my Right to Information under Article 19A of the Constitution of Pakistan and the Freedom of Information Act 2002. Click here to download the letter in PDF.

Why did I do that? Well, frankly, I’m just fed up of a web page telling me that the website or the web content I intend to view is “not accessible” and that it contains “content prohibited for viewership from within Pakistan”. Who on Earth has the right to decide which videos I can view on YouTube, which music I can listen to on Last.fm or what files I can paste and save on PasteBin.com or which articles can I view on Wikipedia or which blogs can I view and read on Blogger or Tumblr? Someone who saw or read something that they did not like? Well, my tastes differ. I will not let ANYONE to decide for me; I am an adult, a taxpaying citizen of Pakistan. I have my own identity and the right to make my own choices. If someone has any objections to something on the Internet, PLEASE do not view that, but you have no right to stop others from viewing what you viewed and did not like.

Website Censored by the Government of Pakistan
Website Censored by the Government of Pakistan

Well, the Constitution of Pakistan and the Laws of Pakistan seem to suggest that such attempts of censorship are illegal; the International Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Pakistan is a signatory, clearly state that Internet censorship is a violation of fundamental Human Rights.

The United Nations recently declared access to Internet as a basic Human Right. In the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression report of 2011, the UN said that disconnecting people from the internet is a human rights violation and against international law.

While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, states have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The report further said:

The Special Rapporteur calls upon all states to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest. In particular, the Special Rapporteur urges States to repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from Internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws.

I have started a petition on Change.org to make the Government of Pakistan realize that we stand firmly against autocratic rule and censorship! We need a free and open Internet! We hate censorship! We live in a democratic country, we have rights, a voice and opinion and a right of freedom of expression and choice that no one can deprive us of! I urge you to sign this petition and make our voice heard!

Click here to Sign!CLICK HERE TO SIGN!

7 Replies to “For a Free and Open Internet”

  1. I am really glad that someone finally raised this issue! Internet has become a necessity today attributed to the vast database that is now available on fingertips. But with the availability of these resources, we have lost some of our values. As it is mentioned that Pakistani government often censors certain content for different reasons with national security as one, it is something to note that D-Day is not banned in Pakistan. To begin with Article 19 of the constitution states that:

    19. Freedom of speech, etc.:
    Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court.

    If in view of article 19 what our government does is justified. Secondly PEMRA and PTA are departments of government that have been functioning successfully from long enough and putting an end to censorship would result in eliminating these organizations. Since the article above comprehensively discusses the flaws in censorship, there is a dire need to look at the other side too. First of all, coming towards the media, it is imperative that today our industry is failing and not competent enough in the global scenario. A reason that is mentioned by many Lollywood artists is the screening of Indian movies in cinemas and now the Turkish soaps. Putting an end to censorship here is like free trade agreement for Pakistan, where Pakistan’s own industry is shattered instead of becoming competent. As far as Islam is concerned, there have been examples of a complete social backlash when the issue of disrespect for Holy Prophet PBUH was trending worldwide. There are examples like Joseph Colony issue when the minority is ruthlessly beaten up by the majority due to blasphemy. Imagine an Indian program where Baal Thaakrae appears and blurts out some crappy statements about Muslims, would Hindu minority already threatened today be safeguarded? We do realize that every Hindu is not Thaakrae but not every Muslim realizes so. If this happens, we would further violate Article 36 Protection of Minorities, which states:

    36. Protection of Minorities:
    The State shall safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of minorities, including their due representation in the Federal and Provincial services.

    Concerning social benefits: Do you know that the only part of D-Day censored is the part where a Karachiite prostitute has to say something regarding sex? Would you mind as parent that your TV has semi nude pictures of Santa women running on it on Christmas? I won’t mind neither! In that case we might violate article 31:

    31. Islamic Way of Life:
    (1) Steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

    As far as national security is concerned, Article 19 already states that freedom of speech is not guaranteed when something provocative is said or shown against the armed forces.

    1. Thank you for that thoughtful and insightful comment Umar, I must say being in PNA at KYMUN really gave you a great experience!

      First of all, a reply in brief: Islamic way of life in context of the ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN means a democratic state where Islam serves as a guidance for people to freely follow, not a theocratic state where people are being forced into follow anything. The government and the law enforcement agencies is responsible for protection of the citizens, which includes the minorities, censorship as an excuse of protecting minorities is admission of failure of the state and the law enforcement agencies. Read the reply to the freedom of speech point below.

      Moving on, I’d start of with the list of constitutional rights that are being violated by censorship, that’ll probably answer your concerns.

      Let’s start with Article 9:

      9. Security of Person:
      No person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with law.

      Our liberty is being deprived when our choice is being restricted by the illogical and indiscriminate use of censorship.

      Moving on to the Freedom of Association under Article 17 of the Constitution:

      17. Freedom of Association:
      (1) Every citizen shall have the right to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of sovereignty or integrity of Pakistan, public order or morality.

      Considering online blogging niches and online communities, the Freedom of Association is stepped upon when sites like Tumblr, Blogger etc. are censored. I am talking about the blanket bans that block entire domains instead of specific pages.

      Coming to Article 18, concerning Freedom of Trade, Business or Profession:

      18. Freedom of trade, Business or Profession:
      Subject to such qualifications, if any, as may be prescribed by law, every citizen shall have the right to enter upon any lawful profession or occupation, and to conduct any lawful trade or business

      Many online businesses start off at blogging platforms like WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr; people make money off sites like YouTube, Flickr, and numerous other online activities where ads and visitors bring in revenue. Why would you want the government to step on that? Not just that, the government also steps on the trade of these multinational companies, most of which are based in Pakistan as well, and also steps on the businesses of Pakistani online advertisers and Pakistani online ad publishers.

      Now coming on to our beloved Article 19 Freedom of Speech

      19. Freedom of Speech, etc.:
      Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement to an offence.

      You see, by use of censorship, the Pakistani government is prohibiting free speech; bloggers are considered journalists, therefore the government is also restricting freedom of the press. Might you note that the Article begins with “every citizen” which means a person holding the Pakistani nationality under the Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951. If a Pakistani insults Islam, or threatens the security or integrity of Pakistan, he or she may be held accountable under law. You might also note that this in no way prohibits criticism of the Pakistani armed forces, it just refers to the security and defense of Pakistan or any part thereof. Anyhow, this Article may be used to hold such a citizen accountable for his or her misuse of their freedom of speech, not as a tool by the government to censor such speech. The blasphemous film was neither made in Pakistan, nor made by a Pakistani; the Constitution of Pakistan and the Pakistani laws have jurisdiction over every citizen of Pakistan, wherever he/she may be, and over every other person for the time being within Pakistan and over the territories of Pakistan; the blasphemous film maker and the film itself are neither subjected to the Constitution of Pakistan nor any Pakistani Law.

      On the other hand, the government is restriction the rights of Pakistanis to speak against such blasphemy, to criticize it, or to express their opinions against it.

      Free and open competition in regards to the film industry is an entirely different issue, but the issue of our failing film industry had to be looked into before Pakistan joined the World Trade Organization and promised to ensure a free and fair competitive environment. The most our film industry can do now is to come up with better movies and soaps to convince our viewers to chose them over foreign soaps and films.

      Moving on to Article 19A Freedom of Information

      19A. Right to information:
      Every citizen shall have the right to have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable restrictions imposed by law.

      By censoring video sharing websites like YouTube and Blogger, the government also restricts access to information that may be matters of public importance, like government corruption scandals, abuse by Pakistani armed forces and intelligence agencies, which are quite abundant of sites like YouTube and Blogger.

      Coming on to Article 20 Freedom to Profess Religion and to Manage Religious Institutions:

      20. Freedom to Profess Religion and to Manage Religious Institutions:
      Subject to law, public order and morality:
      (a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion; and
      (b) every religious denomination and every sect thereof shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.

      Isn’t the government also restriction minorities from propagating their religion by blocking social media websites and video sharing websites?

      It is the job of the government, the police and other law enforcement agencies to provide adequate protection to minorities, censorship is not the solution. It creates more problems then the solutions it may seem to offer. Now I could go an pointing out a few more constitutional rights being violated by censorship, but I rest my case!

  2. Who refuses the failure of government agencies to protect minorities? Yes every minority has been targeted, be it failure of agencies or be it the mindset? What principle I introduce here is of national security and social peace. We have seen Gojra riots and etc. Censorship is not the way to protect them but until the right time that is the one possible direction to head in. Plus if any article/video/image insults any religion including Islam, Hinduism or christianity, it is for the harmony of society to ban it. Secondly in the light of the issues I mentioned above, the only liberty that is not withstanding at certain times is when you commit crimes of disrespect against Islam or any other religion or when do you insult the armed forces. A person guilty might be refrained from enjoying such liberties. Although the example I am about to quote stands with less comparison, adding a person on social media like facebook is a liberty but when you misuse the liberty you are blocked from using it. Similar is the case, use thy right wrongly and thou should be suspended. It might be wrong to ban the whole site in particular rather than some pages, but the difficulty in actually searching the page that is provocative might have accelerated such actions. As far as trade is concerned, I do recognize the fact that people might be earning through this medium so on and so forth but at some stages the government has to judge the utility, maybe the revenue that is generated is far less than the loss that would occur due to a social backlash if any intended by various agencies local and international. Again article 19 is vital for censorship, you see movies like these upset the Morale of citizens and any speech/media that would upset the moral balance of society should be banned. Though the producers are not Pakistani nor any employee associated with has an association with Pakistan but the movie is only liable to be screened on tvs and cinema once approved, so for the sake of social peace it is a concrete step to ban such movie. Plus as far as the state of machinery of army is concerned, defense is an institution that greatly depends on public confidence. If public confidence in these institutions is undermined by media, it would be a great loss to Pakistan.In concern with Article 19a, the PEMRA has never banned our talk shows that have the audacity to media trial political personalities, the ban only comes when the news presented is in a provocative way. As far as preaching is concerned, I guess that preaching more comes in handy by conventional methods rather than blogger or youtube.

    1. Look at it in this way:
      The Internet is a vast library, the materials available may or may not be of interest to you, it may hurt your feelings or may make you feel happy.
      Would it be acceptable that you burn down the entire library just because you come across a book that insults you in any manner?
      No, what you’d do is either not read that book, and don’t give a damn to it, or you just throw that book out of that library.
      The film that shook our nation wouldn’t have been watched even by 500 people is Muslims around the world hadn’t given it the free publicity it got by their behaviour.
      When our defence institutions abuse their powers they have to be held accountable under law; being the defenders of this country they do not get the clean chit to get away with human rights abuses. You might know that even the Rightly Guided Caliphs did not consider themselves above the law and appeared in courts when they were summoned.
      Islam is a religion that propagates peace, the social backlash that you talked about, the animal like behaviour these people did under the cover of Islam was neither acceptable under Islam nor pardonable under the law.
      Do read this:
      In the name of love

    2. Umar, we are living in a security state, a mammoth chunk of our annual budget goes to defense. We have the world’s 6th largest standing armed force, a poor nation that can’t afford to feed its ever growing population, we’re armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. If our law enforcement and security agencies still fail to protect our people, they are indeed utter failures. Censorship is also not one of the directions to go in!

      If someone insults a religion on any social network, he or she may be put on trial in a court of law and punished according to the law, NOT that the government decides to do away with the social network entirely… Insulting the armed forces is something else, and may be a part of a person’s freedom of expression.

      As far as Facebook’s policies are concerned in regards to the example you just stated, Facebook is a Public Limited company with a ‘Statement of Rights and Responsibilities’ that users agree to; which, unlike the laws of our land and the constitution that governs them, are not agreements but the true spirit of order that governs the nation.

      Just banning and censoring entire sites by citing difficulty of searching for the pages or even the cost, is like killing the entire population of a city in order to kill a few serial killers, or like burning down your own house to kill the cockroaches that thrive within. It is a very very absurd excuse, and yes, this is the excuse our government has come up with. Might you note what the UN had to say:

      While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, states have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

      Might you also note that Pakistan is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

      The government is not a judge in the matter when it comes to what is right and what is wrong, that’s the job of the Judiciary. The government departments may decide to censor such a film when it comes to cinema screening while within the limits of the law, by censoring specific sections; the producers never intended to screen it here in Pakistan. The government just cannot censor the Internet.

      Public confidence in the Army or other defense institutions is not undermined by the media, they just show what the Army did to tarnish its own image. Such individuals within the armed forces must be dealt by the book.

      In the 21st century, preachin by almost ALL religions is done largely online, and that has been proven to be more effective. DO NOT undermine the power of the social media! 🙂

Leave a Reply