Pakistani Citizens Demand an End to Internet Censorship and Intimidation
On Wednesday 19th May 2010, the Lahore High Court ordered the banning of Facebook across Pakistan. Facebook, a widely used social media network, has over 500 million active subscribers, globally. In Pakistan, over 2.5 million people use Facebook to stay in touch with their friends and family, conduct business, philanthropic campaigns, manage events, and share photos, news, and other content. Some weeks ago, a user of Facebook created a page called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”, asking other users to submit drawings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on 20th May 2010. The contents of this page have been considered blasphemous, resulting in a nationwide ban on the entire Facebook domain, instead of just the Facebook page itself. Between the 20th and 22nd May 2010, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority blocked access to over 600 websites.
We condemn all content on the Internet that is abusive and disrespectful of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). However, we also strongly condemn the blanket ban on Facebook and the blockage of other websites. Every citizen has an inalienable right to information and by banning countless websites, Pakistanis have been denied the right to communicate and interact with each other and the rest of the world and their access to information has been curtailed. The blanket ban on Facebook and other websites has also had a very negative impact on Pakistan as countless small businesses, nonprofit organizations, universities, students, volunteer groups, restaurants, art galleries, magazines, and media outlets use Facebook to conduct research, gain knowledge, operate businesses, and share information with their stakeholders. More importantly, Pakistanis have been denied the right to protest and express their condemnation of hateful and offensive content on the Internet as the very platforms that were, in fact, being used for dialogue and counter-argument, have been banned.
On Thursday 20th May 2010, a few members of civil society gathered at the Karachi Press Club to peacefully voice their opinion on the ban. Members of the press turned unruly and started threatening the citizens with contempt of court and blasphemy and labelled them as non-Muslims. A conglomeration of political groups were protesting outside the gates of the Press Club in support of the ban on Facebook. Some journalists attending the press conference informed the protesters about the viewpoint of the members of civil society, resulting in graver threats of violence. All the civil society members present at the Press Club managed to escape narrowly, after some verbal harassment as well as physical jostling.
Article 19 of the Pakistan Constitution guarantees 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 defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, 1[commission of] or incitement to an offence.
Pakistani Citizens Against Internet Censorship and Intimidation have not violated the Constitution of Pakistan or committed blasphemy in any way as they have never shown any disrespect towards Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In fact, they have repeatedly condemned offensive and hateful content against Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on Facebook before it was banned, on websites that have not been banned, on electronic media, as well as in print media.
1. The right to freely express our opinions without fear of threats and violence
2. An end to Internet Censorship and en-masse banning of websites
1. Uks Research Centre-Islamabad – Tasneem Ahmer, Director
2. Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Centre – Fauzia Viqar
3. Aamir Raza Memon – Center for Peace & Civil Society
4. Pakistan ICT Policy Monitors Network
5. Bytes for All, Pakistan
6. Digital Rights Institute, Pakistan
7. PeaceNiche, Karachi
8. I.A. Rehman – Human Rights Activist
10. Beliscity.com – Abid Beli