Yes, its just a local phone call away if you are living in Pakistan and disagree strongly with what I write. Dial 051-9213246 and you will be instantly connected with the Deragulation Facilitation Unit (a nice euphemism for playing-censor-is-my-favorite-pastime) where you can record your complaint and demand my ban. You can give this process an extra boost by synchronising your grievance with some angry bureaucrat or a politician sitting in Islamabad. If you are clever enough, there is no need to stretch extra in convincing censor gods that the information I present on my website is misleading, dangerous for public consumption and can easily instigate political or religious agitation. Having done that with just a phone call, you may sit back and relax; my ban is just a matter of an office note (courtesy: pakistan451) now.
Pakistan has a funny history of banning people, books, movies, newspapers and other media content. It is risible to an extent that I still remember seeing the red-letter word ‘BANNED’ handwritten on a catalogue card in one of the largest libraries of Pakistan. The book was Fazlur Rahman’s ‘Islam‘ which was banned few years before I was born. Nearly three and a half decades later, it is still banned in that remotely located library of Bahawalpur. The librarian shrugged his shoulders when I asked him about the authority who can ultimately reverse that ban. That little gesture of indifference which I remember till now was telling enough to reveal the dynamics of information regulatory mechanisms in Pakistan. Nobody cares – and unfortunately it cant get simpler than that.
The question of rights is always a tricky one to handle in societies like Pakistan. A place where masses are not prepared to demand their basic consumer rights (e.g. asking for price control mechanisms of basic necessities), making a case for free speech seems pettifoggery. It is ironic that the prolonged ban on weblogs is not a matter of priorities; it is actually the complete non-acknowledgement of civil liberty.
I am what I write and if you dont agree with what I compose, making me invisible to the world would not make your point any stronger.
Those who banned ‘Islam‘ (and thus Fazlur Rahman) in 60s did not have the slightest of the clues of what exactly they are doing except reacting impulsively to foolish demands of a misguided rabble of society. Just like cartoons of today who sprinted like crazy to block access to 12 websites showing caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. The legal import of article 295-C of Pakistan Penal Code (the famous blasphemy law) invoking which the constitutional petition of 2nd March was issued is already questionable in the real world. This particular saga has extended this incertitude to the horizons of the cyber world also. The clause states that
…use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.
It does not need a law freak to visualise confounding implications of legal philosophies creating room for judging people’s life on something as intangible as insinuations and innuendoes. Philosophizing deep into the intricacies of blasphemy law would be a sheer digression and it is sufficient to say this law was invoked amidst a funny court-room drama. Though Dawn did not report in detail and just mentioned Yahoo Incorporation USA, there were people in Pakistan who demanded complete ban on famous search engines which were being utilised to search sacrilegious content. The real punch line was provided by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who said:
We will not accept any excuse or any technical objection on this issue as it concerns sentiments of entire Muslim Ummah
I wonder why he needed a court to make this simple decision in the favor of entire Muslim Ummah; he should instead get his coveralls, dash right up to the Karachi coast and pull out the fibre optic link from the sea bed.
Although equipped with decent Cisco routers, Pakistan Intenet Exchange employs primitive techniques of filtering. Due to this DNS level filtering, entire domain of .blogspot became inaccessible on 3rd March as one of the 12 initially blocked sites was a blog hosted on Google Blogger. What came later was enough to prove that the decision of 2nd March 2006 was a very bad precedent. There is no end to internet censorship since last 6 months. An Amended Telecom Act 2006 was approved and members of interior, information, cabinet and broadcasting ministries were piled up with security agencies to create a Deragulation Facilitation Unit which is allowed to literally play havoc with internet. Consequently access to alleged anti establishment sites, controversial wikipedia pages and newspapers with a different view were blocked on whims. Albeit many of these blockades were short lived (except the blogs hosted on .blogspot), the painful part is the underlying uncertainty of this complete process. There is no single list of blocked websites, there is no timeframe and there is no Regulation Facilitation Unit.
Pakistani Bloggers are doing there best by joining hands and unifying their voice. We have some shining, intelligent, patriotic and active voices, however strongest harmonic in this spectrum remains not of hope but despair and desperation. Its good that we are facing it with equanimity and composure. Writing, no matter how amateur, is a serious business and anyone exposed to Pakistani Blogosphere would affirm that it is quickly bringing a positive change to Pakistani cyber-culture. We should not allow anybody to reverse this ascending curve at any cost.