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In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, April 10 2014

Screenshot of Anusha Rehman's profile at www.na.gov.pk

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.

Rehman, for example, has avoided appearing in court multiple times when summoned to testify in the Bytes for All case challenging the YouTube ban.

This week, Bolo Bhi called the party out for their hypocrisy.

Bolo Bhi directors Farieha Aziz and Sana Saleem stated: “It is alarming that PML-N opposed the ban when they were in opposition but have continued the ban for the last year and still refuse to address it.”

The current leaders of the opposition, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), oppose the ban, and have been working to overturn it in the National Assembly.

Opposition member Shazia Marri was told April 2 that her resolution to lift the ban on YouTube would be put to a vote April 8 (prompting two contradictory headlines: “Ban on YouTube in Pakistan may be lifted in two months” and “Removal of YouTube ban in Pakistan still a distant dream”).

However, the morning of April 8 Marri found that the two resolutions she had put forward—one on YouTube and another on polio—had been omitted from the agenda.

Bolo Bhi's Sana Saleem was observing the National Assembly session on April 8 and described the proceedings to techPresident.

Other National Assembly members who supported Marri's position on YouTube took 30 seconds or so of the time allotted for their issues to voice support for Marri and her YouTube resolution. Marri herself raised the issue multiple times throughout the session, pointing out that opposition leader Khurshid Shah had been assured that the YouTube ban would be voted on that day.

At the end of the day she stood to speak and continued to do so, even after her mic was muted. IT Minister Anusha Rehman left the Assembly.

Normally, the IT Minister would have been the one to respond to Marri's resolution, which would then be put to a yes or no vote. However, since she left, another member of Rehman's party spoke on her behalf, objecting to Marri's resolution on the grounds that it is Sub Judice, meaning it is being addressed in the courts and cannot be discussed.

Marri countered that there is an interim order from the court that states that this is an issue that should be taken up by the government.

“She made a very very compelling argument in front of the house,” said Saleem, “and basically as soon as she finished they adjourned the session.”

They adjourned 15 minutes early, she adds. Another member of the Assembly even rose to ask why they did not put the resolution to a vote, but it did no good.

At a press conference organized by Bolo Bhi and the opposition the following day, Marri said: “It is really disappointing that the government is ignoring this issue and finding escape from their responsibility from a very important issue. YouTube is a source of knowledge for a large population of Pakistanis, particularly students and young professionals.”

Sana Saleem told techPresident she and her colleagues have been “shocked” by Rehman's complete turnaround on this issue in the past year.

In imitation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Bolo Bhi issues a scorecard for Rehman's performance six months into her duties and IT Minister. She scored a pathetic six out of 80.

Bolo Bhi concludes:

As someone everyone had high hopes from, the Minister has only disappointed. A month or two ago, many were still willing to give the Minister a chance. Yet, with every statement and action, the Minister only sunk their hopes of betterment. Bring up the Minister in conversation now, and there is a decided tone one hears, of utter frustration and anger. As a public official, she is expected to be more approachable.

It is pertinent to mention that be it over the blocking of YouTube, issuance of 3G licenses, spectrum allocation and use or relocating of USF/R&D funds, the government has been dragged into court for either non-responsiveness or contestable policies. A clear indication that nothing is right with policy-making or the approach towards it in this sector.

I asked Saleem if she thought the resolution to open YouTube would pass if put to a vote.

“I think so,” she responded, “and even if not, it is a democratic process that should not be halted...it is shocking that the government finds no need to answer citizens or even fellow policymakers on the issue.”

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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