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.
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.
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!