As of January 12, 2016, a .pk version of YouTube has been launched in Pakistan. This launch was announced on the Google Asia Pacific blog, and is part of a three-country launch: Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.
What is the specific nature of the agreement reached between the government of Pakistan and Google/YouTube to enable localization, is something that must be clarified publicly, both, by the government of Pakistan through the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom (MOITT), Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), and Google itself.
YouTube was blocked on September 17, 2012 due to the availability of the blasphemous video, Innocence of Muslims. In 2012, the Supreme Court directed authorities to block the video. Nowhere in the judgment were instructions to block the whole domain given. Nevertheless, citing the inability to block a particular video, the government imposed a domain-level ban on YouTube.
[See: Final Order]
In 2013, petitions in three different cities were entered challenging the ban on YouTube and online censorship. Of these, the most detailed proceedings took place before the Lahore High Court. During these proceedings, PTA cited the technical inability to do anything about the video. Following that, the Ministry resumed its pursuit of filters and an attempt to get Google to localize i.e. offer a country-level domain.
In 2013, when localization was being pursued, Bolo Bhi issued a statement, raising concerns about the implications of such an arrangement – especially how it would enable censorship, given the existing policy and legal environment:
In 2014, both Twitter and Facebook restricted content upon the request of PTA. The companies reversed their decisions following public criticism. Bolo Bhi published a legal analysis of the applicability of the Pakistan Penal Code to online content.
Currently, the PTA’s powers to block content online stand challenged in a petition Bolo Bhi filed before the Islamabad High Court. While the original stay order barring the government and PTA to issue any directives at all was modified upon the insistence of the Ministry, citing the need to deal with terrorist content online, the court instructed PTA to produce a record of blocked websites should it act upon a complaint made to the Authority. However, this is only for the time being, the case is still before court. The question of the legality and constitutionality of PTA’s powers to issue directives and take action remains to be settled.
In 2015, collectively with other civil society organizations, Bolo Bhi issued a joint statement at RightsCon asking for increased company transparency reports and decision-making processes.While company transparency reports were a good first step towards transparency and disclosure, commitments to expression online require greater resolve on part of companies to pushback against governments through the policies they enact, and greater disclosure – not just in terms disclosing number of requests received and complied with, but the decision-making processes companies follow.
With the quiet and sudden localization of YouTube in Pakistan, what led to this decision and the nature of the agreement between the government of Pakistan and Google remains unknown and needs to be made public. Especially in light of concerns raised earlier. Users have a right to know what terms have been agreed to and what it means for them.
See: Archive: YouTube Ban