Twitter ban angers Pakistani activists | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 21.05.2012
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Twitter ban angers Pakistani activists

The Pakistani government's decision to block social networking website Twitter for several hours angered Pakistani tweeters who took to Facebook and other websites to protest.

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority imposed a brief ban on Twitter on Sunday saying the social networking website had carried "blasphemous" tweets. The posts were reportedly a competition on Facebook to draw Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.

Any representation of the Prophet Mohammad is considered un-Islamic and blasphemous by many Muslims, who make up the majority of Pakistan.

In 2010, a Pakistani court had ordered a ban on Facebook over controversial postings revolving around the Prophet. The government lifted the ban about two weeks later when Facebook agreed to block the particular page in Pakistan.

Although the government did not explain what had prompted it to reverse its decision on Sunday, it restored access to Twitter before midnight. Twitter spokesman Gabriel Stricker said the company had not complied with any requests to remove tweets before the site was unblocked.

Congregation of Islamic parties' supporters in Islamabad

Islamic parties in Pakistan say social networking websites promote 'un-Islamic' values

The temporary ban on Twitter enraged Pakistani tweeters and activists, who took to other social networking websites to protest. Many tweeters said it was foolish on the part of government to impose restrictions on free speech.

'Idiotic'

Farah K Siddiqui, a communications expert and tweeter, told DW that it was "idiotic to block any forum," in the 21st century. "What the government does not realize is that by trying to stop people to access certain internet material, they will make it more attractive to Internet users. Banning information does not work these days. People always find alternative ways to access information."

Islamabad-based blogger Tazeen Javed criticized Islamabad's paranoia about "blasphemous material."

"Someone, somewhere in the world, will always be tweeting, writing, blogging, drawing something that can be construed as blasphemous by someone or other, but that is no excuse to block or ban a medium, which a vast majority use as a tool of communication for various purposes," she told DW. She said the ban was more about the government asserting its authority than about concern about blasphemy.

For his part, the artist and activist Imran Nafees Siddiqui told DW that social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook had limited scope in Pakistan, and did not have such a great impact on the lives of most Pakistanis. However, he said that by imposing the ban on Twitter, the government had revealed its "fear of the unknown."

'Double-standards'

Dr Shakuntula Banaji from the London School of Economics said the Pakistani authorities were not the only ones guilty of trying to control the media. "At times, regulation is fine and necessary. But this kind of regulation is actually censorship," she told DW.

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“It is filtering out bottom-up voices. If you look at what happened to WikiLeaks, at what happened to people supporting the anti-cut protests in the UK or people supporting the Occupy movement in the US, it is censorship and the state and mainstream media both practice it."

Banaji lamented the fact that the censorship of websites and other media by states, which are considered undemocratic and do not comply with Western liberal values, is often more maligned than the censorship practiced and promoted by corporations.

"These are double standards. We are campaigning to get the BBC to cover the Palestinian hunger strike. Have they given it any coverage? Not covering a big story is tantamount to censorship."

Author: Shamil Shams
Editor: Anne Thomas

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