- Without notices, many blogs, websites, social media pages suspended, blocked
The recent suspension of the ‘Sarcasmistan’- a Facebook page that had around a million likes – devoted to sarcastic posts, videos and images comes as a latest closure in a long history of bans imposed on the social media in Pakistan.
With reappearance of missing bloggers, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordering registration of FIR against owners of these pages and directing state institutions to block social media sites involved in spreading blasphemous content, a silent crackdown has already started by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
In January 2017, ‘Khabaristan Times,’ an online satirical publication was blocked by PTA without notification. Previously, the WordPress.com, a widely-popular blog site was blocked in March 2015. Similar attempts were made to ban Facebook back in 2010 and YouTube was blocked twice – once on 2008 and again in September 2012. However, the blockade of both the sites was lifted later on.
Last week, Justice Shaikh Aziz Siddique of the Islamabad High Court while hearing a petition against blasphemous pages ordered relevant authorities to take prompt action against these pages and individuals running them. “We act on complaints received by citizens and authorities, and then we block the websites and pages. We act in strict accordance with the law and court orders,” a PTA official said on anonymity.
He said that the blocking of these sites was an ongoing process thus no specific number about websites and pages blocked can be given at this time. “We are an investigation authority and have no role or mandate to block the pages or websites,” said Noman Bodla, deputy director at the Cyber Crime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) when contacted.
He said that his cell gets complaints of cyber crime that include identity theft, harassment, financial frauds and others and then investigates the matter in depth. “With many individuals in powerful positions hell bent to champion the cause of policing social media. There is little hope for freedom of expression to survive in this country,” said Sarmad Mujahid, a telecom engineer.
Previously, the print and electronic media were tamed, now the powers have eyes on social media, he said. “All these attempts are aimed to throttle the freedom to express one’s conscious on one of the most potent and alive platform,” he said. PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran wasn’t available for a comment.