First they came for Facebook, but the social media giant compromised its principles to provide Pakistanis a limited experience of the social network, entering a secret agreement with our government to block access to certain pages in the country.
Then they came for YouTube on religious grounds, and our largely illiterate population applauded the move to limit their access to information and freedom to speak out on an alternate medium outside the control of the state and local media. Google, for reasons of their own, has largely ignored the issue, and we have heaped scorn and hate on the company.
We have had many sections of the web being blocked recently, ranging from websites that monitored and recorded targeted attacks on Shias to the website of evolutionary biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. We have had pro-Ahmadi websites and Facebook pages such as Roshni disappear. We have seen the continuation of a massive crackdown on Baloch websites. We have recently seen torrent sites being blocked en masse by some internet service providers (ISPs). We have had individual content targeted for bans such as the Beygairat Brigade’s music video Aalu Anday, a satirical rock song that challenged the dominant narrative of the state and our society.
It seems anything that potentially threatens the status quo is fair game for being blocked and banned, which is in direct violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But who cares about human rights in this country of ours.
Our Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman has proudly declared that 2,700 ‘objectionable’ websites have been blocked in Pakistan, and if she has her way, ‘objectionable content’ on the entire internet will be banned.
Sadly, our ISPs, rather than fighting for their customers’ rights, have opted to toe the line, allowing these bans based on directives issued by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) without questioning the grounds for a website being blocked.
There is no announcement to customers when a new site gets blocked. No apology. No explanation. No public list. No notice to the website owner. Only the dreaded one liner:
The ISPs say they are not responsible as they are only following instructions from above – but they are responsible.
The PTA says it is not responsible as it is similarly only following instructions – they too are directly responsible.
Who is actually issuing the instructions? What are they blocking (and what are they choosing not to block)?
No one knows, as there is no transparency and no legislation governing this process. So really, no one is to blame yet everyone is involved – how convenient.
The anonymous powers issuing instructions, the PTA and the ISPs know they can get away with all this because our nation is a tried and tested bunch of human cockroaches – ready to murder and lynch at the drop of a hat, yet completely ignorant and hollow at their core. We are hypocrites, which makes us easy to manipulate and squish. They know there will never be a revolution in Pakistan, much less a successful campaign against online censorship because none of us really stand united, or is seriously committed to any one set of values.
As I have written before, the values on which the internet has been created (ease of access, empowerment of the individual and such) are in direct conflict with our radicalised, reactionary and uneducated nation.
Who can we appeal to when all the pillars that regulate and govern our society are just as rotten as its people, and in this case, completely ignorant about the nature of the online space?
I fear for my little blog on WordPress. I fear for the news website I run. I fear for the Facebook pages I operate. You should too. They will get here eventually. How do I know?