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January 31, 2017 - Comments Off on Pakistani internet censorship’s latest victim: Khabaristan Times

Pakistani internet censorship’s latest victim: Khabaristan Times

Khabaristan Times (KT), Pakistan’s version of The Onion, has been reportedly blocked in Pakistan since January 25.

On their Facebook page, KT stated that: “There hasn’t been any official notification from any regulatory authority regarding the website being banned, but it can’t be accessed anywhere in Pakistan.”


This is another instance of growing censorship in Pakistan. It follows the forced disappearances (and return) of bloggers that tackled difficult and controversial subjects. The noose around free speech continues to tighten everyday – to the extent that even a website dealing in satire wasn’t able to escape its grasp.

Pakistan has been repeatedly ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for reporters in the world. This is extremely relevant when you take into perspective the fact that KT had amassed several dozen writers, many of whom were journalists. Often the pieces on the website spoke truths that editorial policies would otherwise not allow in mainstream newspapers. For both the writers and the audience, KT became an outlet of sorts.

When probed, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) said that the website was banned after complaints were received from “people and institutions”. However, there is no transparency in the entire process. The publication was given no warning, asked no questions, and told nothing before their website was taken down in Pakistan. Even at the time of writing this, no official statement can be found on the PTA website or anywhere else.

This is the reason that we always opposed the powers allotted to the PTA under the new Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act. Without any public debate, without any dialogue, the authority decides what falls under objectionable. An ‘institution’ can move them to action without any transparency or real discussion. Bigger media houses and even corporate companies can stand tall against them, perhaps. But what happens to websites like KT – whose purpose has never been to make money. It deeply angers and saddens us that in all likelihood this is not a decision people running the show will be able to fight.

What is happening to bloggers, journalists, writers, and now even entire publications, is one of the reasons that the Digital Rights Foundation constantly asks for judicial oversight to all processes. It is not okay for an entire publication to be blacked out by the authorities, who have assumed no obligation on their part to explain their actions.

These are dark times for Pakistan. By blocking KT the message we are sending out to the world is that we can handle absolutely no criticism of our social structures, our weaknesses, our institutions, and everything else – even when it’s meted out as a humorous satirical piece.

We stand in solidarity with our friends at Khabaristan Times.


May 3, 2013 - Comments Off on Global Coalition Of NGOs Call To Investigate & Disable FinFisher’s Espionage Equipment in Pakistan

Global Coalition Of NGOs Call To Investigate & Disable FinFisher’s Espionage Equipment in Pakistan

Note: This is a Bolo Bhi & Digital Rights Foundation’s open call for support for national and international human rights organizations against espionage and surveillance in Pakistan.

This statement is pursuant to the Citizen Lab report, “For Their Eyes Only: The Commercialization of Digital Spying,” the report describes the results of 1 year of research into the global market for commercial intrusion and monitoring software. The report included a global mapping of the command and control servers used for FinFisher, a remote intrusion and monitoring product line sold to governments. Pakistan was identified among the countries where FinFisher Command and Control servers have been found.

We are a consortium of NGOs and individuals— ARTICLE 19,  Association For Progressive Communications, Access Now, Bolo Bhi, Centre For Democracy & Technology, Centre For Peace & Development Initiatives, Christopher Parsons,Chunri Chuopaal, Digital Rights Foundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Global Voices Advocacy, Index On Censorship, Intermedia Pakistan, Individual Land Pakistan, Leila Nechwati,  Privacy International, Reporters Without Borders, Simon Davies (Privacy Surgeon), Institute for Research Advocacy and Development Pakistan,The Centre for Internet and Society, The Internet Democracy Project India, The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA),  Nawaat — committed to respecting user privacy and promoting freedom of expression and access to information.

We express our dismay and condemnation over the presence of a FinFisher Command and Control server on a network operated by the Pakistan Telecommunication Read more

January 18, 2013 - Comments Off on Pakistan, Youtube Bans and Education for Awareness

Pakistan, Youtube Bans and Education for Awareness

-Haroon Riaz

Some governments need bans to make their presence felt.

It is hardly any surprise that the Pakistani government is one such authority. When you are unable to do anything about a violation of your perceived moral higher ground, it probably feels good to deny access to it, which would supposedly correct and improve the morals of the society at large.

So why Pakistan blocks youtube every now and then, you might ask?

This has not been the first youtube ban, and if it ever gets lifted, it certainly will not be the last. Because censorship somehow satisfies the vain sense of virtue of our nation, because that is all we can do about certain things and it makes us feel good.

At the same time, as we are in a middle of a “democracy”, you know, a democracy that only tolerates enough freedom of speech that the masses are conditioned to tolerate. Not realizing how undemocratic bans on communication channels are. You cannot help but wonder if the ban is really about blocking blasphemous and “indecent” material, whatever in the world that means.

Have you ever considered how vigilant the PTA or the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Pakistan's information big brother, is when it comes to blocking youtube when the slightest opportunity presents itself before it?

Again I am not really sure if it is actually about the blasphemous material on youtube, especially the seemingly-indefinite current ban which was enforced by the government after they discovered that some people in Pakistan had discovered that some people in Egypt had discovered a trailer of an unimportant second rate anti-Islam motion picture called the Innocence of Muslims.

Even some of the most educated conservatives in the country, justified it. All the seemingly intellectual talk show hosts seemed to endorse the ban as well. This time it is more personal as far as Google is concerned and goes far beyond blocking a page or two, as previously has been the case with Wikipedia and facebook.

This time around, as it concerned the ever popular youtube than the ever popular and the much-easier-to-convince-and-not-easier-to-give-up facebook, the PTA was hoping to mold Google in succumbing to the local traditions and to sacrifice their vicious ideals of American freedom to operate in Pakistan in peace. But apparently to no effect. But that does not mean that the PTA is sitting idle.

PTA had been investing in a powerful mechanism to block hundreds of thousands of websites, particularly pornographic websites. So probably these bans mean something greater, such as the preliminary steps to a greater internet control. This means we would see more messages like the one in the image above whenever we are trying to visit a website with “indecent” content.

Because slowly but surely the ambiguous definition of “indecent” will begin to eat up just about anything that comes down as a threat on the radar of insecurities of the PTA and the nationalistic, religious and ideological ethos of the conservative Pakistani society. So, the government control of the internet and the youtube means the PTA converting it very much into the Pakistani media, which actually kills the entire point of using the internet.

But if the Pakistani government did block the youtube because of the blasphemous video, then there is no sense in lifting it because the video is still there. Isn't it? As youtube would most probably not remove the video on the basis of the principles of freedom of expression and their terms of services, whether you agree with them or not.

But if the PTA does get youtube to operate under the Pakistani laws, then you can say goodbye to possibly a lot of other content too, such as historical foreign documentaries and particularly atheistic and science youtube channels, which are in their own right “converting” the educated youth to a certain extent. At least its encouragement of critical reasoning shakes up their faith a little. It’s disturbing for the harmony of the society.

I tweeted this a couple of weeks back.

 How do I know there is still a government in Pakistan? Youtube is still blocked.

What I found interesting were a few responses to the tweet. Things like a youtube ban is not something that you cannot live without. The people in old times did not have computers and the internet and youtube, but they lived their lives happily.It's such a lame argument, if it can hardly be considered one at all. We have been so brainwashed that we can't even recognize our rights.

It is like saying that you should not claim your rights just because you have been deprived of it for centuries, like the right to education. Furthermore, centuries ago people had also been living without electricity, utilities and they had no CNG to fuel their cars with. Give up all that too and stop complaining about the government then.

Speaking of the government, a couple of days back Senator Rehman Malik, the interior Minister tweeted that he had recommended to lift the ban on youtube and had forwarded the summary to the Prime Minister. He also confirmed that the PTA would be using a “strong firewall” to block anti Islam, blasphemous and pornographic, you know “indecent”, material.

- There was a gr8 demand to unblock Utube from all sections of society esp fellow tweeps..expect the notification tday! Hope u r all happy now [tweet link]

- PTA is finalizing negotations for acquiring a powerful firewall software to totally block pornographic and blasphemous material. [tweet link]

Now, even if the youtube ban is lifted, that is bad news on just so many levels.

Because apparently the government is hellbent for greater internet control and to screw the great internet freedom that Pakistan had enjoyed in the earlier years, largely thanks to the ignorance about it in the conservative circles. Furthermore, I have observed, though I could be wrong, that the mainstream media has been growing more conservative by the day.

Rehman Malik can try all he can to give a shot at progressive actions, but given his party's resistance to liberalism (they need to get votes) and electoral alliances with obscurantist fundamentalist parties such as Sahebzada Fazal Karim's Sunni Itehad Council (a prime proponent of the youtube ban), the government will remain a guilty party.

And shortly after Malik's recommendation, the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered blocking the youtube again after a brief lift of ban as the moral police immediately discovered that the blasphemous video was still up and running. So much for taking progressive steps. Still I think we must appreciate his individual efforts.

I hardly see any improvements in the near future, as apparently the mainstream Pakistani media is moving far more towards the conservative side of the slider since the Musharraf days. Because it’s about the faith of the Momin.

However, it is really our choice whether we choose to ignore our rights as a nation or whether we continue to indulge in acts of ignorance and obscurantism, fooling ourselves by taking them as acts of religious virtue. Fortunately or unfortunately, this problem is connected with a number of others in our society and are caused by the indoctrination that most of our nation has gone through.

Only secular education with encouragement of critical reasoning can help bring about the necessary change. These would impregnate our children with the values of liberty and reason that would emancipate them from the bonds of religious obscurantism. So it is up to us, whether we want to breed sheep out of farms or raise intelligent individuals who at least know their own rights, if not make the world a better place.

But in the end, this is just for the government of Pakistan, including the politicians and the bureaucracy, to know that there are people in Pakistan who are aware of their rights. They won't break any laws. Some of them may not want to go to jail to have them and certainly not die for them, at least not me, but they know what it’s about.

Life is more precious than any principles or political correctness, when it comes down to it.

Modified version for Digital Rights Foundation of the post that appeared on the Truth Journal.