Pakistan’s internet landscape reveals high engagementBy Soonha Abro, dawn.com

Pak internet café (Credit: bbc.co.uk)

Pak internet café (Credit: bbc.co.uk)

KARACHI, Jan 10: The impact of the Internet, especially state regulation and its control of cyberspace, was discussed after a comprehensive report on Pakistan’s online future was launched by Bytes for All at a local hotel on Friday.

While the blocking and filtering of content on the Internet by the state resulted in numerous violations of fundamental rights, especially the right to access to information, people successfully circumvented these blocks by using proxy servers and virtual private networks, said Jahanzaib Haque, author of the 28-page report ‘Pakistan’s Internet Landscape’.

Presenting report’s main findings and recommendations to the gathering, Mr Haque said that although the blocking and filtering of online content was becoming increasingly organised, it continued to be inconsistent.

He added that the blocking and filtering was mostly directed at the content that was deemed blasphemous or obscene, even though these terms were not properly defined. He cited examples of some educational websites that were incorrectly defined as ‘obscene’ and therefore banned by the authorities. Some members of the audience added to the discussion by relating anecdotes of students who had experienced difficulties in learning, because the You tube ban restricted them from accessing useful lectures and other study materials on the website.

Talking about the problems of hate speech and extremism in his presentation, Mr Haque, web editor at The Express Tribune, said there had been very specific and targeted attacks on well-known personalities in recent years. In this regard, he cited the hate campaigns that started in the wake of the deadly attack on Malala Yousafzai in October 2012, and those hailing Mumtaz Qadri as a hero for killing former Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011.

The presentation was followed by a lively, rather informal panel discussion on the report’s findings, and their impact on the freedom of expression in the cyberspace and Internet rights in Pakistan. Panelists included Wusatullah Khan (senior journalist), Sabeen Mahmud (founder of PeaceNiche/T2F), and technologist Aleem Bawany, along with Shahzad Ahmad, Country Director of Bytes for All, Pakistan, as well as the author of the report.

The complete report — produced by Bytes for All Pakistan (B4A), a human rights organisation focusing on the Information and Communication Technologies — is available online for the public to read.

The research paper provides a detailed outline of the Internet control mechanisms deployed by the government, and describes the existing legislative measures and their applications to the Internet. It also provides a historical view of Internet censorship in Pakistan, and the state’s attempts to ‘criminalise legitimate expression’ in the cyberspace. The report also explores the current situation of Internet surveillance, its purpose, the method used, and the effects caused by such monitoring.

The event was attended by media practitioners, journalists, human rights activists, members of the civil society, politicians, researchers, as well as major stakeholders in the cyberspace.

The event concluded with the screening of a light-hearted video titled ‘Hugs to Youtube’, starring a person dressed as the You tube logo, and carrying a sign stating “Hug me if you want me back”. The video was an initiative by the #KholoBC Pakistan for All campaign that opposes all forms of state oppression and regulation of content on the Internet.

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