The ban has just been lifted on orders of the PM.
The given ground for it was the ‘promotion and encouragement to participate in blasphemous contests’ through Twitter.
The first point of argument that arises upon hearing this, is: if such contests are being held by some, how will Pakistan’s suspension of Twitter stop it? How does barring people from any site, accomplish anything, leave alone the discontinuation of the alleged ‘offensive’ content?
It is patent that this is at a complete discord with rationale, thus rendering the whole act futile while assigning the element of sheer foolishness to it.
And that too, on a site like Twitter where any such controversial or globally or locally ‘trending’ topics immediately come into the cognizance and under the discussions of the millions of users?
In view of these, the reason given by PTA was seen more of a pretext rather than a valid explanation for their action.
Although the ban has been removed now, the situations surrounding the internet and its usage in Pakistan command that its core be taken seriously: internet censorship.
Since the advent of social networking sites, many in Pakistan have found a medium where the relatively great freedom of speech and expression available in the country, could be utilized to have their voice heard.
But the fact that the government and its organizations are vested with the authority to define a broad term like ‘objectionable’, misuse it to cease access to the internet under its cloak, is, to say the least, disconcerting.
Relevantly, taking into account that religion is the most dangerously sensitive pulse of the nation (and the most handiest of cudgels in Pakistani politics) and from 200 million only around 10% to 15% of Pakistanis are on the internet (while the rest are not conscious of what is really present or happening on it), using the guise of religion ( ‘blasphemous, objectionable content’) is the most ‘lucratively’ easy strategy for the puissant to advance their aims.
Especially in a country where there has been a tremendous transformation of the internet as a vent for public outrage, anger and criticism of the legislative, judicial and executive organs of the state, and as a forum for unprecendented critical scrutiny of the Military Establishment and the ISI.
Not to mention, how the internet has revolutionised the transmission of information, knowledge of global political, social or cultural happenings – at a phenomenal rate.
The abovementioned factor, is what usually troubles those ruling a state.
Generally speaking, the reach to all information of the populace is not in their (rulers, the potent) favor for it often ‘endangers’ the status quo or the position maintained by them.
And this leads to decisions that are, to go by the rhetoric, taken to ‘safeguard the public’ (and posed as forms of social control, when they really are government-foisted constraints to preserve the profitable ‘political equilibrium’) as the state jumps to keep up this drumbeat by parading notions of threat of disturbance to the social order.
(In Pakistan, that can be seen by how the alarm on the society’s morality was raised with the abundance of porn sites given as an example to justify banning many and ‘filtering the internet'; a sweep which included many Baloch sites that documented the gruesome, organized massacres in Balochistan and unambiguously naming the uniformed perpetrators while containing the grave disenchantment of the Baloch with Pakistan)
In the case of today’s Twitter ban, which was implemented with such a dubious founding, it all makes the aforementioned concern feel all the more real and reasonable.
Considering the popularity and usage of sites like Twitter and Facebook span continents and billions of people, they are correctly resembled to bridges that link the world; transcending physical borders and geographical separations.
Their incredible reach has established them as a connection between populations all around the world to interact, engage in healthy discussions, clear common misconceptions, express their point of view on a range of topics and even promote commercial, educational, political and social goals.
And at a time when Pakistan is practically a pariah state, heavily stereotyped and misunderstood and such is the power of the internet in this age, that it has been successfully used as a tool for revolutions; it can not afford and must resist internet censorship in any form, which not only removes it from availing the benefits that the platform offers, deprive its citizens from their right to freedom of speech, expression and information but also virtually, further isolates Pakistan from the rest of the world.
~ Hafsa Khawaja
* Later published on Express Tribune.