Why the Twitter ban is serious

Published: May 21, 2012
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How will Pakistan’s suspension of Twitter stop 'blasphemous contests'?DESIGN: SIDRAH MOIZ KHAN

Two years ago, a ban on Facebook was enforced in Pakistan. Yesterday, Twitter was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. Do you see a pattern here?

The reason for this ban – which was lifted within a day by Prime Minister Gilani was that it was against the ‘promotion and encouragement to participate in blasphemous contests’ through Twitter.

Here’s my first argument: if such contests are being held by some people around the world, how exactly will Pakistan’s suspension of Twitter stop the practice?

How does barring people from any site accomplish anything, leave alone the discontinuation of the allegedly ‘offensive’ content?

Coming to my second argument: what ‘blasphemous contests’ were being publicised on Twitter that were only visible to the PTA, but not to those who are logged onto to micro blogging site 24/7?

For those who are not aware, let me explain; Twitter is a site where any much talked about, controversial topic appears on the sidebar as globally or locally ‘trending’. To my knowledge, these blasphemous contests did not appear on that bar yesterday.

Thus, the reasons given for the ban is seen as more of a precaution rather than a valid explanation.

Although the ban was removed within 24 hours of its enforcement, the hullabaloo created yesterday reminds us that internet censorship is a subject that needs to be taken seriously in Pakistan.

Since the advent of social networking sites, many in Pakistan have found a medium where their voice can be heard. People can now easily vent their outrage publicly. They can exhibit their anger and criticise the legislative, judicial and executive organs of the state. In addition to this, they can express their discontent with the military establishment and intelligence agencies. Never before were we so liberated to say what we want.

Moreover, the internet has revolutionised the transmission of information. Knowledge of global, political, social and cultural happenings are now discussed as soon as they happen. Nothing can remain hidden from the public for every long.

This troubles those ruling the state as the status quo is challenged. There is very little wiggle room when everything is out in the open for the public to scrutinise. So when this freedom of expression alarmed those in power, along with banning (for example) porn sites, they also blocked access to Baloch sites that documented the gruesome, organised massacres in Balochistan.

Yesterday’s Twitter ban makes these fears real.

The government, however, retains the trump card; they have the power to define a broad term like ‘objectionable content’ and they often misuse this authority to cease access to the internet for no apparent reason. Decisions are taken in ‘the best interest of the public’, and are posed as social control, when they really are government-foisted constraints to preserve the profitable ‘political equilibrium’.

Taking into account that religion is the most dangerously sensitive pulse of the nation (and the most handy tool in Pakistani politics), the authorities banned this website for a small fraction of the population that uses the internet. They used the guise of religion (‘blasphemous, objectionable content’) since it is the easiest tool that will further their aims to silence. See how they are limiting us?

We should not let this happen.

Stand up in support of freedom of expression.

Stand up in support of freedom to access of information.

Stand up in support of banning internet censorship.

We deserve the truth – the whole truth.

At a time when Pakistan is practically a pariah state, (a time when the internet is a powerful tool for revolution), we cannot afford and must resist internet censorship in any form.

Not only will this practice deprive its citizens from their right to freedom of speech, expression and information but also virtually, further isolate Pakistan from the rest of the world.

hafsa.khawaja

Hafsa Khawaja

A student based in Lahore who keeps a keen eye on Pakistan's socio-political issues and global affairs. She blogs at hafsakhawaja.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • AN

    I think the real agenda was stopping other political parties from using this tool for campaigning basically. Recommend

  • observer

    Stop blogging. Terrible article. Recommend

  • http://oneworldfootball.wordpress.com Ahmad

    Echoing the words of the author, I fully agree that “internet censorship is a subject that needs to be taken seriously in Pakistan.” It is heartening to see activist organizations such as ‘Bytes for All’ working 24/7 on such issues. They were very active in bringing news about the ban yesterday, and probably had a role to play in the uplifting of the ban.

    Please like their FB page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bytes-for-All-Pakistan/169483413120528 and I strongly urge everyone to support such organizations!Recommend

  • Hasan

    Very well written Hafsa. Just as any of us, apparently literate, would have thought, what to do and how to express our anguish over something that at some level does cause this mild anxiety of not being able to communicate with friends via a major social media forum, you came up with perfect words to translate those feelings. Twitter, as I have found, acts as an ‘alternative medium’, providing a relatively uncensored and raw pool of information where we can directly interact with and give feedback to people influencing our daily lives. One area of particular importance are those young journalists whom we find candid over many news that come up, not as we see them on TV channels and E-papers. Blasphemous content, as you mentioned and many of us feel so, was a mere decoy. Its primarily to impede free flow of information from dedicated journalists to net-savvy active young Pakistanis like yourself. Pacifying those stereotypical ‘internet non-users’ by blocking a website or two, paradoxically affects those who rely on it for a major part of every day life.Recommend

  • Zain Umar

    Are you appearing for SAT?Recommend

  • Mr T

    You know you must be crazy…….These holligans are making fun of our beloved Prophet(PBUH) and you say “we cannot afford and must resist internet censorship in any form.”
    When someone uses abusive content in his/her comment on any blog including this one, ET edits that comment or they dont publicize it why? That is also a form of freedom of speech but some take it kinda personally…… if someone makes a mockery of the Holocaust the whole world becomes like a panic room and when it comes to Islam, it is freedom of speech?

    Any such form that is against the Prophet(PBUH) by someone will not be tolerated by any Muslim. We will support every exemplary action taken against anyone who tries to play with our sentiments including CENSORSHIP. And by the way if Pakistani authorities take any action it means that there is some GHAIRAT left and its about time that we should learn to appreciate that.
    PLEASE PUBLICISE THIS IF YOU DARE………………..Recommend

  • Hasan

    @observer:
    Read the original uncensored version at hafsakhawaja.wordpress.com . Articulated as it was.Recommend

  • AF

    Ban has been removed? I still cannot access it using wateen telecom. When I called and asked them about the reason they said they are still waiting for notification from PTA. I then said did you get a notification to block it?Recommend

  • Sad

    This article would be a cause of regret for the writer one day ! Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/007Zone Habibies

    Twitter is the only one site in the world jaha pe mai ne aaj tak aur daily 15 hours using of twitter mai “blasphemous contests” nahe dheki… amazing its “Topi Drama” yaroRecommend

  • http://www.ahmadhammad.com Ahmad Hammad

    Great write up. I agree to most of the points made in here.
    I’ve heard (through a tweet today) that it was due to the comments made against Rahman Malik that the site was blocked. Is it?Recommend

  • Me

    @Observer, You obviously don’t use twitter so please stop criticizing.Recommend

  • Arif Zaidi

    Wounderfull job hafsa really i like it :)Recommend

  • http://mezaajedeen.blogspot.com Tribune Reader

    Overly sensitive Religious people have a problem with everything and everyone who is not upto their standard, end of story.Recommend

  • Altamash

    @Mr T:
    The internet is place of information, if you don’t like something do not watch it but don’t impose your will on others. Pakistan should learn that, instead of trivial issues we should focus on the real issues facing our country. And regarding your comment about the Holocaust Hollywood does make fun of it. Its just that the Jews don’t start burning private property and chant “death to America”. By censorship and being obsessive over what others think of your religion, just makes you and your faith look weak.Recommend

  • Iqra

    @Mr T What good does banning social networking sites do to Islam? If people have a negative view of Islam then instead of blocking the whole site because of one comment that someone found offensive, we should try to change peoples thinking about Islam. And anyways I think the point of the article is to highlight how religion is being used as an excuse to achieve alterior motives. The blasphemous tweets in question do not exist. Recommend

  • ashar

    Ban or no ban is not the question. Actually it is the profound love and respect of the Holy Prophet a true muslim cherish in his heart that matters. Whenever some thing bad is said about Him or anything takes place to humiliate the best of mankind, muslims are deeply moved and hence the ban is required to invite the attention of the operators of the respective internet service in order to make them realize that within their clientale spread all over the world there are people who are hurt with this action of yours.

    However, if this evil continues, it will definitely invite reaction which could be any thing against any one involved in this heinous crime.Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    Making fun of the Prophet (pbuh) is also a very serious matter for all Muslims. It is time to dump twitter and start an Islamic alternative so full and correct information can be passed around among Muslims.Recommend

  • Quite storm

    I think u explained why we r not such good muslims anymore… We can do anything 4 our social networking hunger and so called “right of freedom of speech”… We can miss our prayers but can’t miss a second of social networking.Recommend

  • Spoiler

    and Stand Up for the Champions ! :D

    @observer: I know YOU! HAHAHAHA Recommend

  • Uza Syed

    Any attempt to ‘blaspheme’ a prophet or a religion or a book is crazy idea, anyways. However to try to block the medium used by such sickos is even crazier. If anyone is mad enough to think that by blocking 1.9 million Pakistani users of ‘Twitter’ they are going to impress the rest of about 500 million users globally then s/he should really get his hallucination treated. Recommend

  • Awais

    @observer:
    How so?Recommend

  • Mr T

    @Iqra:
    @Altamash:
    Look your arguments are not valid and you didn’t get my point. The thing is not about social networking sites. The thing is that we have to defend our religion at some point as well.

    Just understand it this way, when Nato forces attacked Salala post and our soldiers got martyred we stopped the NATO supply because our soverignty and national security came under harm and at the moment no one in Pakistan supports the restoration of these supplies (No doubts) because national security matters the most to all Pakistanis.

    Similarly we should understand that Islam means a lot to the Muslims including Pakistanis and some blasphemous contents can never be tolerated or even ignored and this censorship practise atleast brings these social site owners into their limits.
    Hopefully you get my point.Recommend

  • saad

    The religious fundamentalist will try to suppress anything where one doesn’t agree with his/her views on religion, in this case Twitter. Intolerance, prejudice, narcissism, and hate are only a few of the great qualities that being a religious fanatic in Pakistan creates. Recommend

  • John B

    I don’t see similar hair rising, jugular bulging articles when the freedom of right and speech to burn Quran or cartoon publishing happened.

    Hopefully now PAK understands what is real freedom of speech.

    Pak citizens do not have rights: they were given selective privileged rules under the constitution and they will be revoked “subject to law, public order and morality” .

    Freedom of speech and expression means exactly that: right to express displeasure on a issue which may be blasphemous to others, but it is my (or PAK ) right. It is the same right PAK citizens use to burn effigies of US senators or burn US flag or tweet against Americans.

    Read the on going tweet blasphemy trial in Kuwait.

    Freedom of expression in PAK -what freedom everyone is looking for: right to marry anyone, right to worship anyway one likes, right to have marriages recognized by state, right to express opinion on the subject without the fear of Mumtaz Qadri, right of women to walk without burqa, or right to tweet and watch porn ?

    Why suddenly everyone has become champion of freedom of expression when such freedom was systematically taken away from the minorities for decades. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Frankly, I don’t see what’s wrong. Pakistan is merely following the example of other Islamic states, which don’t give a hoot to Freedom Of Expression. Pakistan is just following the trend.

    If you have to question the ban, you have to question the principles of the Constitution. If you have to question the Constitution, you would have to question the ideology of Pakistan, which in turn will make you question the validity of demand for Pakistan.

    Its all related. You have asked a simple question, but that question is incomplete. Recommend

  • ayesha_khan

    @Zain Umar: “Are you appearing for SAT?”

    That is rich coming from you. Your article had random big words that did not even make sene in a context. In comparison, this article is fairly clear in what it is saying.Recommend

  • http://Islamabad Mangoman

    It was just a tester… govt checked BP of public :pRecommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    Who cares? Its just Twitter.Recommend

  • Anthony Permal

    Ayesha Khan, Zain was being sarcastic. He’s poking fun because the same comment had been asked to him.Recommend

  • Zeeshan Sheikh

    Another FacePalm article by a liberal elite. Ever heard of registering a protest in peaceful way

    Every news on ET is a FacePalm.Recommend

  • http://birmingham elementary

    Pakistani people are gullible ,sentimental and highly inflammable;events like this on the internet provides our worthy right wing parties opportunity to unleash their destructive powers,score political points,damage some public property etc, using gullibility of our masses.Recommend

  • http://syedowais.blogspot.com Owais

    I think the ban done was fine, not harming to anyone, instead more secular extremism will create rivalryRecommend

  • Altamash

    @Mr T: Why do you have to defend your religion, is it so weak that you have to offer an explanation, why can you not forgive the blasphemers, that is what Prophet Muhammad did why cant we as muslims follow his example. Did he imprison poor non-muslims for blasphemy, no he did not. And because of his conduct people embraced Islam. Now look at muslims they are making a mockery of their own religion, and that is why people have “burn a Quran day” and what not just to instigate muslims who will then start chanting death and burning and killing mostly their own people, and the world will laughs at them. As for Pakistans integrity and sovereignty, we have none, we live on aid and treat our people like crap. We sold ourselves a long time ago. If we had any integrity we would have shot down the helicopters which were attacking Salala base but no, we want any “apology” from the united states, i mean come on that is just pathetic. We did not fight back because our rulers do not want to lose their wealth. If you read Bob Woodwords novel “Obamas wars” or Wikileaks this is what the prime minister and president have told the Americans, and i am paraphrasing “you do what ever you want, we will just scream and shout and do nothing” and about drone attacks killing civilians to Leon Panetta Zardari said” I do not care about civilian casualties”. All this is on record. And also do not forget the shameful way the prime minister ridiculed Pakistanis, his own people, in a recent interview. And this is a country in which a certain segment of people consider such a man, and others like him, to be their “Pir” and build shrines in their memory. Just sad and pathetic, no wonder we are now the laughing stock of the world.Recommend

  • http://www.cafepak.com cafepak

    We do not believe that ban was against “Draw Muhammad Day” event, because we know very well that applying limited bans on such a large site will not affect them at all. There must be another reason behind it!

    And if they ban for blasphemy related contents then this ban should be applied for lifetime! Recommend

  • Zain Umar

    @Ayesha Khan

    Just because you could not get those words, you’re running low by saying ‘ It did not make any sense’? lol wow I bet you’ve from UK because only our desi Pakistanis when are unable to understand english come up with this one lame excuse 1. Doesn’t make sense, as if your comment doesRecommend

  • Zain Umar

    You’re *Recommend

  • Growup

    Ok here’s the thing. I’m pretty sure every muslim loves and respects the prophet and the religion, so all you people need to stop being ‘jazbait’ about it. The article was really good (read the uncensored on the writer’s blog).
    See we pakis are REALL EMOTIONAL aur bohat ‘senti’ ho jatay hein, we really overreact. And believe me, the more louder you react the more people will enjoy it and do it again. See banning wont solve anything, but it certainly would give birth to future blasphemes. And what do we need to protect our religion from? NOBODY IS ATTACKING US. You know extremist people like you are the ones who spread stupid ‘zionist’ or ‘statanist’ conspiracy theories.
    Overall the ban was stupid, because it certainly wont stop those blasphemers neither will the webmasters take any serious actions. Recommend

  • Mohammad Ali

    This ban gave all Western pagans a signal that if you hold that highly objectionable emotions and intentions against the Most Beloved Personality, our Holy Prophet (utmost peace and blessings be upon him), then we shall bring the Twitter website down outright. It represents the views of the majority; and the democracy which Western pagans religiously adore puts emphases on the principle that a majority’s views shall be respected and shall rule, the majority here in Pakistan is in favor of the ban, hence the ban must be placed if this deplorable contest escalates on cyberspace. Recommend

  • Bilawal Tunio

    So what if twitter is banned? Common man does not use it. We are a farming country, we should focus on agriculture instead of writing and reading which includes this tool of Satan. Good work by PPP.Recommend

  • Noman Sherdil

    I challenge you all supporters of absolute freedom of expression to go by the palace of the Queen and shout abuses at her or make a video of yourself abusing the Queen and get it broadcast on BBC, you dare survive roaming freely in UK only minutes thereafter, I challenge you all, you cannot; they will throw you behind the bars. There are a certain significant limitations to the freedom of expression that must be borne in mind, not forgotten. I reproduce hereunder the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 10, Sub-article 2 for ready-reference:

    “The exercise of these freedoms [freedom of expression], since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions,
    restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a
    democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial
    integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for
    the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation
    or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information
    received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and
    impartiality of the judiciary.”

    Provided, if the freedom of expressions goes against the morals or harms the reputation of others, it must be controlled. Here, the despicable drawing is visibly against the supreme doctrine of morals (Shariah) amongst Muslims denoting vast majority in the country, then why must it not be prevented? Furthermore, would it not pollute our reputation as Muslims?

    You Western-wannabe freaks turn down the law of the land, the blasphemy law of this nation for one reason or another but how about you consider observing the International Law seeing that your ideal Western states are party too to its enforcement?Recommend

  • http://angrypakistaniblogger.blogspot.com/ Mirsub Ali Fazlani

    What’s next? Banning Google for containing listing Anti-Muslim Content?Recommend

  • Stranger

    @Growup
    If anyone humiliates me, I should not protest because it will signal him that I am ‘senti’ about it and will repeat it again!! What a theory my bro.

    Try this theory for yourself, I am sure you wont bear anymore.

    @Writter

    Our Holy Prophet (PBUP) sacrificed his each and everything for his Ummah and we people easily forgetting everything including the great Karbala, just want to have a connection to twitter. Come what may?

    I am sure if I write anything that hurts writer, my comments will be immediately removed from ET and that will be against the freedom of speech!
    I am amazed how we can easily ignore such a thing for the great personality but we can not bear for ourselves?? The best thing we know is complaining about each and everything no matter what it is.Recommend

  • Stranger

    @Mirsub Ali Fazlani
    If Goolge is blocked in this regard then what?
    China had blocked google several times, Are they chinese people dead? Are they not developing? Are they deprived? Recommend

  • Khan

    I wonder if you visit a website where your father is openly made fun of.. You will hate it to your guts, put your 100% to get it down and out. Think about it kid, its Prophet SAW, hes dearest to us than any of our family.. Have some dignity and not let a bunch of idiots get away with it, atleast do what you can in your capacity rather than supporting it… Recommend

  • Outlaw

    good article, i think we should really take internet censorship serioulsy now.Recommend

  • Mahmud Ghaznavi

    Banning Twitter was vital, since Twitter gave Government of Pakistan no other option and kept the severest offence (the competition) aimed at directly hurting Muslims’ spiritual feelings going on a massive scale, how is that ever lawful and not against the business/moral/social ethics? If any law allows you to emotionally murder somebody (which I know no law does), such law needs no place in any legal system.Recommend