Conference on internet censorship ends on sour note

Published: May 20, 2010

Dr Awab Alvi speaks at the Karachi Press Club conference.

KARACHI: A press conference on internet censorship ended with heated exchanges between the participants and media personnel present at the Karachi Press Club (KPC), Thursday evening.

The group, Defenders of Internet Freedom who had gathered to peacefully protest against the nationwide ban on Facebook asserted that the current ban on multiple sites is severely affecting people’s social and business interests.

“Since yesterday most of the interactive and informational websites have been blocked by the government, including Youtube, Flickr, Wikipedia,” said one of the participants. “When the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority had the authority to block that particular page, why was the whole website blocked?” They argued that Facebook, being one of the world’s most popular websites, has over two million users in Pakistan out of the 400 million across the world. “People use it to stay in touch with friends, family, to get jobs, for research and educational purposes, while thousands of small businesses are dependent on the website for publicity and promotion,” a participant argued.

They quoted an incident in which the Supreme Court of Pakistan had banned the blogspot.com domain in 2006, a ban that continued for over 18 months. “I feel that instead of banning the entire website, people should have been given an open house to do whatever,” the participant opined. However, speakers at the conference were unable to effectively convey their point to media personnel.

In the ensuing confusion, emotionally charged media personnel accused the participants of ignoring people’s feelings regarding the issue of blasphemous content on the popular social networking site.

The conference took a turn for the worse when prominent blogger, Dr Awab Alvi stated that the entire issue was being blown out of proportion.

Enraged journalists present at the KPC responded by demanding that the group should present a clear stance, and that challenges against the government should be presented in court.

“A press conference criticising the Lahore High Court’s decision can be viewed as contempt of court,” argued one journalist at the event. “It [the issue] needs to be addressed at the right platform.” Others present at the press conference accused the civil society members of fighting the ban out of business interests. Another panellist said that Muslims had a greater hand in marketing the page. “As soon as such a page was made, we made several groups condemning it, forwarded and reforwarded the message.

It reached more people through us than it would have reached otherwise,” he said. “We need to deal with the issue on an open platform instead of shutting down the whole web service.” The press conference concluded on a bitter note when the speakers called it to an abrupt end. “People have the right to express themselves and to agree or disagree provided that they believe in discussions instead of jumping to hasty emotional conclusions,” one of the four participants said. The civil society members also announced that they will take the issue to court on May 31.

The situation was further aggravated when members of the Jamaat-e-Islami showed up to protest outside, forcing members of the conference to exit the KPC premises from a back entrance.

Tweeting after the conference, Alvi said “Safely home Sad experience, our point we condemn cartoon caricature but Not a blanket ban on websites, became issue of muslim non-muslim.”

For more details on the Defenders of Internet Freedom, click here.

Controversy facts:

1. Facebook has 400 million users. Only 2 million are from Pakistan. That is 0.5% of the total Facebook audience.

2. The offending Facebook page that the Pakistan government banned had about 30,000 members 3 days before May 20.

3. Following the complete ban of Facebook in Pakistan, the offending page has 80,000 members and growing as of Thursday evening.

Reader Comments (31)

  • dk
    May 20, 2010 - 8:20PM

    I request Tribune team to open thier own Social Networking Site .. we all will love it!Recommend

  • S.A.R.A
    May 20, 2010 - 8:27PM

    hahaha Doc, baaz ajaoo :)Recommend

  • sadaf
    May 20, 2010 - 8:27PM

    banning or blocking is not a solution Recommend

  • May 20, 2010 - 8:34PM

    I cant believe that this is happening. The PTA and LHC have taken this too far already. Censorship is not going to help the cause in any way. Banning the vessel is not the solution to this problem. We need to learn to be pragmatic instead of reacting unnecessarily. I condemn Facebook’s move not to delete that offensive page but honestly did they have to ban the whole website. The same goes for youtube and other websites which got caught in the mix. The only way people will land upon those pages is if they want to search for it. I doubt anyone would want to do that in the first place. Who is the government trying to protect us from? Is it symbolic to ban something which was used as a platform to promote that event? It has caused more harm and done nothing to defuse the situation. We should have initiated a more peaceful way of combating this. What are we going to do if they use other methods of propagating hate? Hate does not exist on the internet alone. It exists in the minds of people. Do they think that banning websites will shield us from hatred in the world? I seriously doubt it. They may make websites go away but what to do about the real problem which is disregard for Islam or Islamophobia. Our media is not helping the matters anyway by inciting even more hatred amongst our people. The rest of the world has not done anything about it and yet we go around reacting like a mob gone rabid. Recommend

  • Maxime Maximilien
    May 20, 2010 - 8:43PM

    “…current ban on multiple sites is severely affecting people’s social and business interests.”

    And what about people’s religious interests Mr. Alvi? Uh, I forgot, religion is STRICTLY a personal matter while social and business interests are certainly more important than this ‘opium of the masses’.Recommend

  • haseeb alam
    May 20, 2010 - 8:47PM

    agree with dkRecommend

  • Kashan Ahmed
    May 20, 2010 - 8:47PM

    I just can’t believe how many people in this country are so lame that they actually believe in internet blockade and lauding this stupid decision by LHC.

    I am no means appreciating what that page has to offer but banning facebook or any other website is just an attack on freedom of speech and information.

    If we Pakistanis are so grieved about this situation then why not report that page and force the face book authorities to ban the page. But all we can do is shut our ears and eyes and give them more publicity and make ourselves a laughing stock in front of the world.

    No wonder we are producing so many terrorist, who are ready to kill people rather than convince someone with logic and rationality.Recommend

  • Ali Haider
    May 20, 2010 - 8:49PM

    lols @dk’s comment. Well, why not :)Recommend

  • May 20, 2010 - 8:49PM

    You must visit sites like TechCrunch,Mashable etc. Majority of Pakistanis had already reported the page as blasphemous or had disabled the accounts. Even developers who earn via facebook apps endorsed the reason. I might not agree with entire ban too but let’s face the reality; Majority is agree with it,second it’s a decision by SC so why not the Judiciary Champ like Awab is not endorsing it? I smell Hypocrisy here.

    And..why is facebook larger than life? Majority of youth use it just for noting and waste time. I am happy that many like me would not be suffering from procrastination anymore.Recommend

  • Mahvesh
    May 20, 2010 - 9:19PM

    I don’t believe this – who is the media to demand explanations? If they can’t handle criticism, how dare they demand that we take this silently? I’m sorry that this conference which was held with good intentions was ruined because of some bigoted and narrow-minded people who do not understand how freedom to access of information actually works. Recommend

  • May 20, 2010 - 9:31PM

    It was a needed intervention. I wasn’t there so can’t judge but the fact is that you need to put a stance which can be persuasive to all ends. You need to take stance on what is right, not groups or people. You need to see every stakeholder’s position it both logically and emotionally. Tough task. Kudos for the stuff.Recommend

  • Umayr Masud
    May 20, 2010 - 9:42PM

    Its a hopeless situation , our media , our authorities responses and the continued clueless passion is just fueling the trolling. There will be more blasphemous things on the internet everyday. I am quite sure we’d see a ban on the internet soon. And this is no joke. First they’ve exploded the issue in the name of honor they’ve unfortunately done the job of the idiots / haters and now they’d continue to do that.Recommend

  • May 20, 2010 - 10:20PM

    “Emotionally charged” medio persons? Are they there to report or to pass judgement on the proceedings? Recommend

  • maryam
    May 20, 2010 - 10:28PM

    lol this is not da way yar i mean banning these sites is not a solution ….n yes we can report abuse dat user n dat page……well 99% ov Pakistanis r adicted to facebook i wonder un ki halat kya ha rahi ho gi :DRecommend

  • Samad Qazi
    May 20, 2010 - 10:41PM

    We as Muslim must concentrate on our own character. Blocking youtube or facebook is not going to address our problem.

    For me Islam is a vision of life and we must not trap this vision in our own ego.Recommend

  • May 20, 2010 - 11:49PM

    I belong to a small group of people from Pakistan who, in collaboration with other Muslims of the world, were trying to defend the hatred against Islam. We had made a great community of defenders when we were lashed with the Facebook ban.

    Now what happened is, they are more open to do whatever they want to and the people who were neutral, are less likely to be positive for Islam because of the bans.

    It feels like we were in the battle field.. we would have won the war when the armies were called back.. and the battle field is left for the opponents.

    You can’t draw something you haven’t seen. If you do, you’ll end up exposing the (im)purity of your thoughts. Well, the drawings are not the representation of any personality, but are representing inner self of the highly ignored and highly afraid non-believers of Islam. My Prophet S.A.W will not become the way they are trying to present. He’s the greatest of all the creatures in this world.

    I love my Prophet S.A.W like all other Pakistanis do and my imaginations about my Prophet S.A.W are much better than the drawing abilities of any human being in this world.. and am Alhamdolillah sure, our Prophet S.A.W is far better than my imaginations.

    Boycotting others is actually giving importance to what they are doing and boycotting will not stop it but will help flame the anger.

    They are not obligated to what Islam teaches as we are not obligated to their religions. You can’t ask people to be like you, to think as you think, to do as you do, to believe as you believe, to act as you act, or to think as you think. You are living in an age of Globalization where you can’t hide anything now.

    If that’s the way to go, the government should ban everyone in the world who’s denied to accept Islam.Recommend

  • Sana Abidi
    May 21, 2010 - 12:04AM

    emotionally charged! obviously every Muslim be it a media personnel or a protester would be emotionally charged over the offensive facebook event. Recommend

  • May 21, 2010 - 12:18AM

    @Usman: Come on, can you not access Facebook? its readily accessible through web proxies etc. I guess your target audience was outside Pakistan so continue to do what you’re doing.Recommend

  • Ateek
    May 21, 2010 - 12:32AM

    Very healthy debate by subscribers here, yes i dont agree with the ban, its an assault on our basic rights and we must figure something else out, we our self ruined the situation, and we violated the teachings of islam when dealing with this situation, i saw moslems abusing jesus moses bible, jews and hindus, which actually made jews, hindus and christians get indulged in that event other wise they were barely a few hundred atheists, who we cant help because this is what atheists love to do, make fun of believers, but we instead made others blaspheme as well by our wrong behavior, and now government and political parties using it as a tool of their dirty politics, im afraid of the day when google decides not to browse for few million users from pakistan and bans our ips, we will be in cave era, for God sake people specially youth wake up, and fight for your rights.Recommend

  • May 21, 2010 - 12:33AM

    Press conference initiators deserve this behavior. Liberal fanatics are going out of control. FB must be banned Recommend

  • Sameena Rehman
    May 21, 2010 - 1:32AM

    Wow! Looks as if someone snatched away the words from my heart: Liberal Fanatics are getting out of control or shall better be put this way: Liberal Fanatics are forgetting what our religion has imparted. Facebook must be banned forever, ever and ever.Recommend

  • Flash
    May 21, 2010 - 1:41AM

    In past 2 days, I have witnessed our country’s higher powers play “god” – yet again. I have also read the comments here and am reminded of what someone once told me. Never try to argue with a fanatic with “logic”. They won’t accept a logical argument and you’ll end up wasting your time.

    Has anyone in this country heard about “self-control”, I wonder. If you don’t approve of something, “STAY AWAY FROM IT”. If facebook is a time-waster, don’t use it. If a user creates an offensive page, REPORT IT & STAY AWAY FROM IT, so that appropriate action(s) may be taken after careful analysis of the situation. But self-control is difficult so why not take the easy way out.

    Not sure how some of the commentators here have found out (in less than 48 hours) what the “majority” of the FB users/Pakistanis want. There are 2 million registered Pakistani FB users. I am amazed at how quickly the commentators have conducted a census of these users, let alone the whole Pakistani nation a majority of whom don’t have a clue what FB is. P.S. You forgot to include me in the census.

    The creator of the cartoon competition page must have known that they could depend on us Pakistanis for free global publicity. Such predictable people we are. Rushdie case rerun, I say.

    Somehow, we think the whole creation revolves around us. NEWSFLASH: IT DOESN’T! By the looks of it, neither FB nor the cartoon page has lost anything. So let’s stop making a mockery of ourselves. Recommend

  • sakuki
    May 21, 2010 - 1:41AM

    Its seems our Pakistani media is acting like a donkey. Instead of protecting our national interests they are lobbying for “freedom of speech”. I have already stopped using these sites which dont have privacy and lurking the whole immature folk into business agents. We have right to exercise our power to possible extent. Well someone give me some “thought” on what people mean by “Connected” to their family and friends .Do these people don’t have other mediums of communications for connectivity? Do these people live outside our solar system that they need a 24/7 connectivity ? Are all the facebook users are on a space/scientific mission so they constantly need “disgracebook” to ping the ground station ? Common open up you minds people , educate yourself so that media should not consume you like it has done to west. They watch the movies of killing innocent people with background music… . I think “Internet” is blessing but also curse for the youth whole just play around killing their precious time just for fun and connectivity.
    I love the voices who call for our own version of “facebook”. We are hear to support. Recommend

  • Basit Shah
    May 21, 2010 - 10:44AM

    a very healthy conversation indeed. in my opinion the ban imposed on facebook is the best thing that the government has done in many years. As for people in favor of removing the ban, get a life people. Facebook ban is not the end of the world. We have a load of other things to concentrate then to cry over this issue.

    Crux: No to Facebook!Recommend

  • omar
    May 21, 2010 - 11:57AM

    If you don’t like FB then why log on to it. simple really.Recommend

  • Anaresh
    May 21, 2010 - 12:59PM

    Pakistanis are acting hyper enthusiastic over the issue… fb should be banned for ever….blah blah blah

    I feel the pro ban people could’ve used their energies at exercising their will power and not using the site. PTA banning it… simply shows that the government needs to force the people to stop using a site…that is definitely a point on public liberties.
    The press conference ending on a sour note, suggests but one thing….sheer lack of tolerance for everyone who disagrees with the masses.Recommend

  • May 21, 2010 - 1:47PM

    I am sorry to learn how reactionary and fanatic elements have hijacked the whole country. Dr. Alvi is right in pointing out that the whole issue is blown out of proportion. There are indeed certain fundamentalist and fanatic elements who want to use this issue for political purposes. I am equally sorry to learn that certain elements within media are also not ready to listen to rational dialogue.

    I admire the courage of the participants of the press conference. Thank you for standing up for freedom!Recommend

  • Sana N
    May 21, 2010 - 2:01PM

    @ Basit Shah and the like,
    alright but it doesn’t seem fair that the govt should ban only facebook.
    why not ban the internet and news and media altogether? there are more hate sites out there and there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it. Removing the ban does not mean that people are in favour of the offensive page, it just means people are in favour of freedom and free will, which LHC are taking away. This conference was not called to fight a religious issue. Don’t log onto facebook of your own violation and anyone else who finds it offensive can do the same you narrow minded religious fanatics! I’m sure if the govt barricades everyone into their homes or a special base camp to protect their sentiments because the world outside is corrupt and hates islam you would happily rot in there. the fact is that we have a right be where we want to be and have the sense to ignore what we know is wrong. the offensive page should not have an effect on anyone who is strong in their faith, the group should have received NO RESPONSE because by giving it to them on such a fabulous scale we only fed their agenda and made them world famous!Recommend

  • May 21, 2010 - 3:09PM

    Hi there, I think we should not be dependent on one thing. This universe has a lot of things to get inspiration and it offers luxurious styles of living. Just imagine, what were people used to do when there was no existence of facebook???? Just go back hmmm one decade and consider. We have the options there. Anybody who criticizes upon government or ban on facebook, must strengthen him/herself and should establish his/her own networking platform.
    Another interesting thing is, after banning facebook, there are a lot of chances for newer innovations…… Think again Recommend

  • R. Husain
    May 21, 2010 - 8:04PM

    yes, ban the Internet, Pakistan. that’s the way to do it: speak no evil, hear no evil, read no evil. ban the print and electronic media as well. we can conveniently go back to living in the age before the ‘communication revolution’ and feel really proud about ourselves and our country moving forward without using such crutches. Recommend

  • May 23, 2010 - 2:08AM

    Doc’s playing a risky game.Recommend

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