Last week, members of the Bolo Bhi team observed a session at the National Assembly, anticipating a resolution to unban YouTube to be tabled. Member of National Assembly MNA Shazia Marri (PPP) had tabled a resolution seeking to lift the ban on YouTube on April 1, however, it never made it to the agenda. She was informed it would be put to the house in the next session: April 8. However, the resolution was omitted from the agenda despite the assurance.
During the assembly session, Leader of the Opposition, Khurshid Shah (PPP) raised this on the floor of the assembly and was assured it would be included in the agenda. However, the session neared its close and still the matter did not come up for discussion. Ms. Marri took the floor nonetheless to raise this issue. The speaker, however, maintained the matter was in court and thus sub judice, therefore could not be discussed. In response to this Ms. Marri read out portions from the judge’s interim order, which stated that a “defenceless battle” was being waged against technology; that “it is impossible to block content 100% ;” and, most importantly, the government of the day had been instructed to devise a policy by the court.
It must be mentioned that members of the opposition, namely Shireen Mazari (PTI), Dr. Arif Alvi (PTI), Syed Ali Raza Abidi (MQM) and Saman Jafri (MQM) had signed Ms. Marri’s resolution in support. MQM legislators raised point of orders to raise the issue which were quelled, and Ms Mazari was heard on the floor of the assembly saying “at least let her speak,” in reference to Ms. Marri.
However, this too held no sway over the speaker, and in an unprecedented occurrence, the assembly session was called to a close much earlier than usual time.
Minister for IT and Telecommunications, Ms. Anusha Rahman who attended the assembly session, left the NA just before the issue was raised, delegating to a fellow party member to respond on this matter.
The next day, Bolo Bhi joined MNA Khurshid Shah, Shazia Marri and Senator Farhatullah Babar to issue a joint press statement from Leader of Opposition’s office, to register our concerns about the Government’s lack of interest on this matter. Senator Afrasiab Khattak (ANP), who also tabled a resolution to lift the ban in the Senate, was present in person to support the issue, while legislators namely Dr Farooq Sattar and Syed Ali Raza Abidi of the MQM, Shireen Mazari and Dr Arif Alvi of PTI, and Senators Mushahid Hussain Syed (PML-Q) and Osman Saifullah Khan (PPP), all extended their support even though they could not be there in person.
In response to this joint statement, an official from MoIT contacted by the Express Tribune said the following: “The government has decided to disregard both the recommendations of a parliamentary panel and the resolution moved by Pakistan Peoples Party’s MNA Shazia Marri in the National Assembly this week.” According to a Ministry official, “the government would only follow the court orders.”
Have a look a how compliant the Ministry of IT has been with the courts:
Google’s letter not submitted to court by MoIT
It must be mentioned that a response was solicited from Google by the court in May 2013. The query was routed through the Ministry of IT and the response was to be submitted in June 2013. On the day of the hearing, an official from the Ministry of IT appeared and informed the court “Google was not interested in joining the instant proceedings.” This was a gross misrepresentation as the Ministry had already received a response from Google which it was supposed to submit to court. In the next hearing (July 2013), when this was raised in court, the document was discovered at the bottom of the case file. It appears that through a deliberate act, it was never formally submitted to court by MoIT.
Court directs MoIT to devise policy
After hearing all sides: petitioner, ministry officials, PTA, Google (through it’s response in letter form) and amici, the honourable judge directed the Minister of IT to appear in court, seeking a response from her on what the government intends to do about the ban.
An interim order dated August 2013 noted proceeding details and indicated a response that could be adopted to resolve this issue and similar ones if they occur in future. The government was instructed to come up with a policy.
Seven months on, no such policy was prepared.
Court summons Minister of IT – again
When in March 2014 court hearings resumed before a divisional bench (two-member), again the Minister was summoned. The judge wanted a clear yes or no on lifting of the ban. However, again, the Minister did not appear; security reasons were cited for the no-show. The Federal Secretary IT appeared on her behalf, however the judge said it was the Minister who was asked to appear and it was her who needed to respond to court. As an alternate to appearing, the honourable judge then sought a written response by the Minister.
The response that was ultimately brought to court was rejected by the judge. It was not on a Ministry letterhead nor signed by the Minister.
The judge gave the federation two days for a proper response to be submitted. When the letter was received and contents read out, it was noted that it offered nothing substantive or new – it was a nine-month old response. Also as noted by the honourable judge, the letter did not respond to the question asked: what was the Ministry’s stance on lifting the ban on YouTube.
Court directs Minister to meet with IT experts
Following this, through a written order issued by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah, heading the divisional bench hearing the YouTube case, the Minister of IT has been asked to meet with a committee of four IT experts (see here). This meeting has yet to be called – the members have not heard from the Ministry yet. Findings of this committee are to be compiled and submitted to court on May 13, 2014, which is the next date of hearing.
The issue as it stands
1) The government has not complied with court orders; in fact stalled proceedings by not appearing and submitting timely response.
2) By saying the government will not take an independent decision and follow court’s orders, it is actually contravening the court’s orders.
3) Resolutions by opposition members to lift the ban on YouTube, both in the National Assembly and Senate have been blocked. The government is trying to prevent discussion on this subject in the assemblies by saying the matter is sub judice, even though the court has clearly instructed it to meet with experts, consult stakeholders and devise a policy and move towards a solution.
View our resource document with links to court submissions, documentary & interviews and TV shows here