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Petition to Unblock YouTube in Pakistan Basically Ignored By Minister of IT

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, August 12 2013

The organization challenging Pakistan's YouTube ban in court claimed last month that a meeting with the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), moderated by the Lahore High Court, was biased and unfair in its execution and in its portrayal by the media. Only last week the Minister of IT failed – once again – to appear in the Lahore High Court. The counsel for the petitioner, Bytes for All, asked that the court temporarily lift the ban but the request was denied.

On their website, Bytes for All condemned the unfair treatment they have encountered while pursuing this petition:

Bytes For All strongly condemns the biased and one-sided account of a meeting between Bytes for All (B4A) and Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) that has been narrated in a section of the press. We believe this is a concerted effort by the authorities to defame Bytes For All and undermine the struggle against online censorship by the state. Articles appearing in the section of the press in question present a completely one-sided and false account ignoring Bytes For All's side of the story.

On the directives of the Lahore High Court, a team of independent technology experts and Bytes For All met PTA and other stakeholders on July 23. During the meeting, Bytes For All categorically opposed any and all forms of online censorship, citing that online freedom of speech is critically important for the nascent democracy in Pakistan. According to Bytes For All, online censorship will ultimately affect common users by limiting access to content, while also negatively impacting the socio-economic well-being of citizens.

Waseem Tauqir, Director General (Planning and Strategy) PTA conducted the meeting in a facetious manner, disregarding and refusing to entertain numerous queries by the Bytes For All team and independent experts. He went as far as threatening to end the proceedings prematurely and frequently gave shut-up calls when posed with tough questions. The meeting was also disrupted by belligerent PTA staffers, who attempted to engage Bytes For All’s counsel in a shouting match, claiming that “you can go to the court if you want and name me”.

The Minister of IT, Anusha Rehman, skipped town the day before she had been scheduled to appear in court to address the ban. It was the second time she missed court (the first due to an eye infection) which also suggests that Bytes for All is getting an unfair brush off. The court has been told that they will have to reschedule for another date, after Rehman returns from performing Umrah.

Global Voices called the censorship in Pakistan “a slippery slope that will inevitably end in a dark pit where the state controls what people hear, speak, write and how they act, all on the pretext that it wants to ‘save’ them from inappropriate content.”

YouTube was blocked in Pakistan in September 2012, after the Innocence of Muslims video caused riots throughout the Middle East. The Pakistani authorities maintain that it is a security threat, although evidence has been presented in court that shows the vast majority of Pakistanis use the Internet for educational purposes. The NGO Bolo Bhi also showed that, of select Islamic and educational channels on YouTube, the Innocence of Muslims only drew 0.164 percent of the traffic.

Those most adversely affected by the ban are scholars, they say, including religious scholars, as well as artists.

"We do not need dictatorial nannies to tell people what to watch and what not to watch and what decision to take and how to take it. Because after all, it's a democracy. It's not a dictatorship anymore," Furhan Hussain, Internet rights advocate for Bytes for All, told CNN.

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