Stop Censoring To Protect Those in Power

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For Immediate Release  

August 11: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) should stop violating the constitution and judicial orders through its acts of indiscriminate and ad hoc blocking of online content. In a recent order issued by the PTA, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been ordered to block ‘scandalous content’ including “sensual conversations between two sitting parliamentarians.”

To quote the news report:

The footage of a press conference in which a lady TV artiste claimed that she and a man working with a state organisation have secretly got married and they have a son, is also to be blocked. In an email directive to all ISPs issued by Mohammad Ali, Deputy Director Enforcement, PTA has asked them to ensure the blocking of desired web links immediately and report through return email positively. Besides many other undesired links, the official sources said that PTA is emphasizing more on blocking a video clip of a press conference of a lady TV anchor leveling serious allegations on a boss of a TV channel of betraying her and a website containing audio recording of a sensual conversation between two notable opposition politicians of the country belonging to the same opposition party.

We strongly condemn the directive from the PTA, curbing free flow of information to protect those in the corridors of power. This news report makes it all the more evident that PTA continues to use morality, religion and national security as an excuse to block political and controversial content. The Ministry of IT’s method of regulating online content is non-transparent and politically motivated, making it highly questionable and unconstitutional. By excluding civil society in decision-making, the Ministry of IT as well as the PTA have continued to block content based on what the state deems objectionable. This needs to stop. The PTA must respect the judicial stay order on blocking of content online.

Furthermore, as mentioned in the news report, Wahaj us Siraj, Convener ISP Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) has objected to the directives of PTA and to the exclusion of the industry and civil society in the inter ministerial board. We urge ISPAK and Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) to join civil society and call for an end to such ad hoc censorship of the Internet and demand inclusion of civil society representation in the inter ministerial committee for a transparent and multi-stakeholder approach to Internet regulation in Pakistan.

We demand:

  • The Ministry of IT and the State should stop using the PTA to curb free flow of information for the sake of protecting those in the corridors of power
  • The Ministry must include industry, civil society and academic representation in the inter ministerial committee responsible for making decisions regarding online content regulation
  • Both, the Ministry of IT and PTA, in issuing directives and having them implemented, should respect and uphold the right to information and make public the list of websites that have been blocked and unblock all such content as per the judicial order

Contact: Farieha Aziz – Bolo Bhi

Email: farieha@bolobhi.org

 

Bolo Bhi means ‘Speak up’, in Urdu. We are a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, legislation, Internet freedom, digital security, privacy and empowerment. We, at Bolo Bhi, believe it is crucial to bridge the gap between rights advocates, policy makers, media and citizens. It is by bridging this gap that one can move ahead to chart a way forward and resolve issues through consensus, in a way that is mutually beneficial.

 

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