Slap the Block

In case you have wondered what the green and white icon in the sidebar to the right is all about, here is its story. About a year ago A Danish newspaper published some cartoons about the Prophet. (Only one of the prophets is frequently referred to simply as The Prophet – as a bright and culturally-sensitive individual you can already identify him so I shall continue without adding further detail). This led to much furor and froth in many Muslim communities.

The cartoons were also posted on many websites. In Pakistan a couple of highly incensed individuals filed petitions, one to block these websites and another one to register cases of blasphemy. The Supreme Court of Pakistan heard these petitions and directed the government to block websites displaying the cartoons. After this point the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) issued a letter to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) instructing them to block 12 particular websites (a barely-legible image of the letter is available on this BBC site). One of these sites was hosted on the blogspot.com domain. Why these specific websites, and only 12, were selected is not quite clear; surely there must have been many more sites than twelve displaying the cartoons.

Whatever the case, in implementing PTA’s directive the ISPs managed to block out the entire blogspot domain instead of the one specific blog listed in the directive. I do not know whether the domains carrying the other websites noted in PTA’s directive were blocked in their entirety or not. However since Blogger (blogspot.com) hosts a very large number of blogs and all of those became inaccessible in Pakistan, that blockage achieved considerable notoriety. Of course bloggers and blog readers have found workarounds such as the re-directing service provided by pkblogs.com, which is accessed via the green and white icon in the sidebar.

Based on what I have read it seems that the Government of Pakistan did not really initiate the blockage of blogs. A member of the Pakistani public petitioned the court which directed the Government to block websites displaying the offending cartoons. The responsible government agency (PTA) picked twelve sites and asked ISPs to block those. Then through laziness, technical incompetence, overzealousness, or fear, the ISPs blocked an entire domain instead of a specific blog hosted in that domain.

Movements protesting the blockage want to pressure the Government of Pakistan to lift the blockage. But if the Government is complying with a Supreme Court order, can it unilaterally lift the blockage in defiance of that court? I suspect not. Either the court would have to overturn its own order or Parliament would have to pass some law to enable the blockage to be lifted.

Additionally, it is not clear why ISPs are blocking the entire Blogger domain (and possibly other domains) instead of just the twelve sites required by PTA’s directive. I am sure that there are enough technically savvy people in Pakistan that some would volunteer to isolate just the twelve sites instead of entire domains if the ISPs found it difficult to do that on their own. Could it be that the ISPs fear being targeted by extremist groups? If such is not the case, perhaps blockage protestors could succeed in having the domain blockage lifted by applying commercial pressure to the ISPs.

Then there is the entire issue of free speech. Is the concept of freedom of expression even recognized in the constitution of Pakistan or its legal system (originally inherited from the British)?

These are all serious questions that need to be researched and discussed. Perhaps some approach other than protesting to the Government of Pakistan is needed to bring about change. In the meantime, if you are located in Pakistan, slap the block on blogspot.com blogs by clicking on the green and white icon in the sidebar to access those blogs.

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4 responses to “Slap the Block

  1. Isabella Montefalco

    Qiyas: Thank you for this explication of Pakistan’s censorship scrap. Your question regarding the Pakistani Constitution’s declarations about freedom of speech is answered by Section II, Article 19, of that document: The passage states that “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. . . .”

    In other words, free speech for right-thinkers only.

  2. Isabella, thank you for providing a reference to the relevant article of the Pakistani constitution. It helps to explain the government’s action in imposing a block.

    If proponents of freedom of expression want to have an impact they must work to have this article amended. However such activity will run smack into the issue of not providing preferred status to any specific religion, or indeed to religion in general. That may prove to be a little challenging in the present climate …

  3. Believe it or not I haven´t even seen the famous cartoons yet, however was directly affected by them recently. My husband Sohail so happens to have a Danish passport and was therefore not eligible to apply for a visa to come to Pakistan with me last month…Yes, we know, he´ll simly have to change nationality soon. In the mean time Euros are all with the Danes and some slanderous site eurabianews.wordpress.com informs of plans to make a stance in favour of DK at an upcoming Spanish-Danish soccer match.
    It´s all a bit much_when we all just get along?

  4. My site is also block with PTCL. I can access my site via World Call connection and Warid via my cell.

    But cannot open site via Wi-Tribe and PTCL.

    How to fix the issue any one can help?

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