Posts Tagged ‘ Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ’

Pakistan Blocks Twitter Over Cartoon Contest

By Salman Masood for The New York Times

The Pakistani government blocked access to the social networking service Twitter on Sunday, after publicly holding Twitter responsible for promoting a blasphemous cartoon contest taking place on Facebook, officials said.

A government spokesman was quoted by local news media as saying that the government had been in talks with Twitter to remove “objectionable” material but that there had been no results.

“The material was promoting a competition on Facebook to post images of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad,” said Mohammad Yaseen, chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication’s Authority, was quoted as saying. He was also quoted as saying that Facebook had agreed to allay the concerns of the Pakistani government.

Blasphemy is an issue that roils sentiment easily in Pakistan. Blasphemy allegations have often resulted in violent riots, and religious minorities in Pakistan have long maintained that the country’s blasphemy laws are used to settle personal scores.

Facebook was banned for two weeks in 2010 after protests erupted in the country over a similar cartoon contest on Facebook to draw the Prophet Muhammad. After a high court ordered the government to ban Facebook, the government was quick to ban YouTube and hundreds of other Web sites and services.

Speculation that the government intended to suspended Facebook and Twitter again had been swirling around for the past couple of days. However, this time around there have been no major public protests over the contest that Pakistani officials have expressed concerns about.

The ban has caught Twitter users by surprise.

“I never heard of any caricatures on Twitter,” said Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar at Middle East Institute and a commentator on Pakistani politics, who has a Twitter following of more than 10,000 users. “Now this ban will be promoting whatever caricatures were posted on it.”

Responding to a question last night, Rehman Malik, the country’s interior minister, had denied that ban on social networking sites was in the offing.

“The government of Pakistan’s ban on Twitter is ill advised, counterproductive and will ultimately prove to be futile as all such attempts at censorship have proved to be,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch, in a press statement. “The right to free speech is nonnegotiable, and if Pakistan is the rights-respecting democracy it claims to be, this ban must be lifted forthwith. Free speech can and should only be countered with free speech.”

Critics said that the blocking of the micro-blogging site could actually be a part of longstanding government plan to muzzle media freedom and could be related to the vociferous opposition and criticism that is heaped on the country’s security apparatus in Twitter debates.

“Twitter is a place where fierce opposition to Pakistan’s security agencies is expressed,” said Raza Rumi, a widely read columnist and an adviser at the Jinnah Institute, a public policy center based in Islamabad.

“There is a clear trend,” Mr. Rumi said, “that the Pakistani military and spy agency get a strong critique from Pakistanis themselves, something that does not happen in mainstream media where people are generally shy to express such views.”

Activists supporting minority rights have established a strong voice on Twitter, and advocates for the Baluch people, who are demanding greater rights and a share of the natural-resources wealth in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, have also used it to spread their message.

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Pakistan Builds Web Wall Out in the Open

By Eric Pfannier for The New York Times

Many countries censor the Internet, but few spell out their intentions as explicitly as Pakistan.

In an effort to tighten its control over the Internet, the government recently published a public tender for the “development, deployment and operation of a national-level URL filtering and blocking system.”

Technology companies, academic institutions and other interested parties have until March 16 to submit proposals for the $10 million project, but anger about it has been growing both inside and outside Pakistan.

Censorship of the Web is nothing new in Pakistan, which, like other countries in the region, says it wants to uphold public morality, protect national security or prevent blasphemy. The government has blocked access to pornographic sites, as well as, from time to time, mainstream services like Facebook and YouTube.

Until now, however, Pakistan has done so in a makeshift way, demanding that Internet service providers cut off access to specific sites upon request. With Internet use growing rapidly, the censors are struggling to keep up, so the government wants to build an automatic blocking and filtering system, like the so-called Great Firewall of China.

While China and other governments that sanitize the Internet generally do so with little public disclosure, Pakistan is being surprisingly forthcoming about its censorship needs. It published its request for proposals on the Web site of the Information and Communications Technology Ministry’s Research and Development Fund and even took out newspaper advertisements to publicize the project.

“The system would have a central database of undesirable URL’s that would be loaded on the distributed hardware boxes at each POP and updated on daily basis,” the request for proposals says, referring to uniform resource locators, the unique addresses for specific Web pages, and points of presence, or access points.

“The database would be regularly updated through subscription to an international reputed company maintaining and updating such databases,” according to the request, which was published last month.

The tender details a number of technical specifications, including the fact that the technology “should be able to handle a block list of up to 50 million URL’s (concurrent unidirectional filtering capacity) with processing delay of not more than 1 milliseconds.”

Following the Arab Spring, which demonstrated the power of the Internet to help spread political and social change, Pakistan’s move to clamp down has set off a storm of protest among free-speech groups in the country and beyond.

Opponents of censorship say they are doubly appalled because they associated this kind of heavy-handed approach more with the previous regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf than with the current government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

“The authorities here are big fans of China and how it filters the Internet,” said Sana Saleem, chief executive of Bolo Bhi, a group that campaigns against restrictions on the Internet. “They overlook the fact that China is an autocratic regime and we are a democracy.”

“What makes this kind of censorship so insidious is that they always use national security, pornography or blasphemy as an explanation for blocking other kinds of speech,” Ms. Saleem said, adding that her site had been blocked for several months in 2010 when it made reference to a ban on Facebook. Access to the social networking service had been restricted because of a page featuring a competition to draw the prophet Mohammed — something that is considered blasphemous by Muslims.

The Technology Ministry’s Research and Development Fund says in its tender that the Internet filtering and blocking system will be “indigenously developed,” but campaigners like Ms. Saleem say they think it is likely the agency will try to adapt Western technology for the purpose.

To try to prevent this from happening, Ms. Saleem wrote to the chief executives of eight international companies that make Net filtering technology, asking them to make a public commitment not to apply for the Pakistani grant.

On Friday, one of them, Websense, which is based in San Diego, responded, declaring in a statement on its Web site that it would not seek the contract.

“Broad government censorship of citizen access to the Internet is morally wrong,” Websense said. “We further believe that any company whose products are currently being used for government-imposed censorship should remove their technology so that it is not used in this way by oppressive governments.”

Websense had previously withdrawn the use of its technology from Yemen after facing accusations from the OpenNet Initiative, a U.S.-Canadian academic group, and other organizations that it had been used by the government of that country to stifle political expression on the Internet.

Governments around the world buy filtering and blocking technology to root out illegal content like child pornography. Some private companies employ it to restrict access to social networks and other distractions on company computers.

But the use of Western technology to rein in political speech in countries with repressive regimes has come under increasing scrutiny since the Arab Spring. The OpenNet Initiative said in a report last year that at least nine governments in the Middle East or North Africa had used such products, with the Western companies maintaining lists of sites to be blocked, including sites featuring skeptical views of Islam and even dating services.

Even before implementing its new system, Pakistan has been an active censor. The country was 151st, out of 179, on a ranking of media freedom by the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders in 2011.

“Reporters Without Borders urges you to abandon this project, which would reinforce the arsenal of measures for communications surveillance and Internet censorship that have already been put in place by your government,” the group wrote in a letter Friday to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

To free-speech advocates in Pakistan, the government’s seeming insouciance about censorship is a particular cause for alarm.

“This is a case study,” said Ms. Saleem of Bolo Bhi, which is based in Karachi and whose name means “speak up.” “No government has ever done this so publicly.”

Pak Bans Dirty Texting: Just Say No To Monkey Crotch

By Shivam Vij for FirstPost

You cannot SMS ullu chod in Pakistan anymore. Nor can you SMS monkey crotch if you had any reason to do so.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has banned 1,795 expletives on SMS, ordering telecom companies to filter out SMS-es containing these offending words with effect from 21 November 2011. The letter includes a list of 1,109 English words, more pornographic terms than expletives, and another 586 Urdu words which are more colourful sexual expletives of the standard South Asian kind rather than the plain garden variety pornography.

A letter from the PTA, dated 14 November and signed by its Director General (Services), Muhammed Talib Doger invokes the “Protection from Spam, Unsolicited, Fraudulent and Obnoxious Communication Regulations, 2009″ to pass the order.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has banned 1,795 expletives on SMS, ordering telecom companies to filter out SMS-es containing these offending words with effect from 21 November 2011. Vivek Prakash/Reuters
The Pakistani Twitterverse was on fire last night as the two lists make for hilarious reading. The English list begins with A.S.S. and ends with yellowman. Some words sound harmless (crap and crappy), others bizarre (Jesus Christ, flatulence, murder, monkey crotch). Many are commonly used obscene words (“FUCK YOU”) and care has been taken to account for alternative spellings (biatch, muthafucka). While many spelling variations of ‘masturbation’ are on it, the correct spelling is not. Most words seem to be designed to prevent ‘sexting’ or sending sexually explicit texts (sexy, lick me, do me, S&M, lotion and porn). The list comes down on anal sex as much as vaginal sex. But it isn’t just sex. By banning drunken they perhaps hope to reduce alcoholism.

The Express Tribune points out, “While much of the list contains expletives, a number of words to be banned include medical terms, terms used by particular minority groups, common words from the English language and rap group, Wu Tang Clan.” The ‘medical terms’ include athelete’s foot, breast, intercourse, condom and period. The ‘daily use’ terms include hole, hostage and harder. Words like gay and homosexual don’t surprise but it’s curious why wuutang raised the censor’s hackles.

In fact, thanks to this helpful compendium many Pakistanis are finding their expletive vocabulary enhanced. @UroojZia asked what bumblefuck and ladyboog meant.

@Zakoota said the lists should be required reading in schools to give children the vocabulary to describe politicians and cricketers. With the amount of phrases that include the word “BUTT”, @KhaLeak wondered if Aijaz Butt was banned as well.

The Urdu list has standard gaalis also popular in north India, but many of them may not be familiar to Indians (such as “dani mani fudi chus“). Some are unfamiliar even to Pakistanis. @FurhanHussain said the presence of Punjabi gaalis in the Urdu list amounted to cheating, but others noted that there is no list of Sindhi and Punjabi language expletives, a grievous omission given that the Punjabi language is particularly full of colourful expletives.

“Padosi ki aulaad” doesn’t sound very obscene. There are some 15 spelling and gender variations of ‘kanjar’, a popular Pakistani expletive meaning dancing girls, often also used to describe cross-dressing or men dancing like women. Some of the Urdu ones are quite creative. There are four variations of “Chipkali ke gaand ke pasine” and some are inexplicable (“Nimbu sharbat“, “carrom board”) and some are zoologically bizarre (“ullu chod” or owl fucker). Some are rather vanilla everyday terms like “Buckwaas” (nonsense) and “Bewakoof” (foolish).

There were so many oddball terms in there at first people though it was a spoof. However, Shahzad Ahmad, an internet rights activist who tweets as @bytesforall, said he confirmed with a source at the PTA that the list was real. The Express Tribune story referred to above has been updated to quote a PTA spokesperson who denied knowledge of any letter and said that the PTA “does not take such decisions and only passes on the instructions to licensees once a decision is taken by a ministerial committee.” The PTA, which is also in the news for directing ISPs to block access to 1,71,261 pornographic sites, is said to have convened a meeting this morning to discuss the uproar.

It’s unclear how telecom companies who cannot even filter out commercial spam will be able to handle this new morality burden. But Pakistanis, used to growing online censorship administered by the PTA, took little time to come up with the obvious workaround to the SMS censorship. The offending words are numbered on the blacklist. Many including @SamadK came up with the idea, “Now instead of typing the whole gaali you just need to send the number. Thank you PTA for making is even lazier.”

Many have already started testing it: @KhanDanish tweeted “I hope Imran Farhat 143 doesn’t do 471 in Friday’s match. #Urdu.”

The Urdu list is here and the English list here.

Pakistan Set to Ban More Web Blasphemy and Monitor Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, Bing…

By Rik Myslewski for The Register

Pakistan announced Friday that it will monitor Yahoo, Google, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Amazon, and Bing, and will block links and content that it deems anti-Islamic.

“If any particular link with offensive content appears on these websites, the [link] shall be blocked immediately without disturbing the main website,” Pakistan Telecommunication Authority spokesman Khurram Mehran told the Associated Press.

In addition to the link-blockage of the seven named high-traffic sites, Pakistan web-watchers have also completely blocked 17 lesser sites, including, for example, Islam Exposed, which includes links to blaspheming articles such as “Muhammad, A Symbol Of Terrorism” along with over-the-top posts such as “Joe Lieberman Spews Excrement!”.

The monitoring and blockage comes in response to a court order, as did Pakistan’s recent ban on Facebook due to its hosting of an “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” page — a page that was subsequently taken down, although Facebook officials claimed to have had no part in its removal.

The complete banning of Facebook was lifted after censorship official Najibullah Malik was satisfied that the site had lifted all all “sacrilegious material”.

In addition to the Facebook ban, Pakistan last month blocked, then unblocked YouTube for depictions of the prophet Muhammad, a practice that many Muslims find blasphemous.

“We decided that this kind of information was going to hurt people’s feelings. We have directed the [Pakistan Telecommunications Authority] to block all and any sites that display those caricatures,” Malik told The Guardian at the time of the YouTube ban.

The Guardian, reporting on internal controversy surrounding the YouTube ban, quoted one Pakistani tweeter as tweeting: “Way to go assholes. Why don’t you just cut us off from the internet and get it over and done with.”

Despite lifting the Facebook and YouTube bans, Pakistan hasn’t given up its censorship efforts. “At least 800 individual web pages and URLs have been blocked since the government’s orders to shut Facebook and YouTube,” Wahaj us Siraj, a spokesman for the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), told AFP.

In perhaps the most bizarre development in the country’s campaign to remove blasphemy from its interwebs, Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General recently launched a criminal investigation against Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg for his role in the “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” dust-up.

Although no charges have been filed in the case, the Pakistani newspaper The News International reports that the law that prompted the Zuckerberg investigation, Section 295-C of the penal code, carries with it penalties of “death, or imprisonment for life”.

Not all Pakistanis, of course, are in support of their government’s draconian crackdown on what Section 295-C refers to as “Use of derogatory remark etc, in respect of the Holy Prophet … either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly.”

“It’s absurd,” journalist and filmmaker Hasan Zaidi told The Guardian. “They haven’t thought this through. The logical conclusion is that we should shut our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ban the entire internet, even email.”

Nadeem Paracha of Pakistan’s Dawn news service wrote in his “Smokers’ Corner” column: “By continuing to tolerate a psychotic faith-based fringe for so long, we have actually helped it metamorphose into an unrestrained monster that has zero tolerance for what we think or do.” The problem, Paracha told The Guardian, is that “Anything to do with Allah, or the prophet, and everyone keeps quiet.”

And it must also be noted that the more extreme members of the Muslim world aren’t alone in taking angry offense at what they perceive as “blasphemy”. Remember, for example, the hue-and-cry that resulted from artist Chris Ofili’s elephant dung–encrusted The Holy Virgin Mary, or the attacks on the US National Endowment for the Arts over works such as Andres Serrano’s photograph, Piss Christ. But, to be fair, we must also note that neither Ofili nor Serrano were subject to a possible government-sanctioned death sentence.

–Editor’s note for Pakistanis for Peace- A true  democracy should  protect freedom of speech, no matter how hateful and unpleasant. Banning and censoring content on the interent is the action of communist states, dictatorships, monarchies or theocratic nations like Iran, not a democracy that Pakistan aims to be. There are certainly bigger problems in Pakistan than people visiting websites that are disparaging to Islam.  This is a clear indication of the power in the society still held by the mullahs~

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