The Lahore High Court on Tuesday asked Information Technology Minister Anushay Rehman to appear before court in August with a written statement on the government’s stance on access to YouTube.
A division bench of the LHC headed by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah issued the order after the government failed to respond to an earlier order. The judge remarked that the government appeared to be avoiding the subject.
The judge said in view of the 18th amendment, it was appropriate to ask the minister for the government’s policy rather than the secretary. The judge asked the law officer representing the government, why the government was being evasive on the YouTube ban. He said there was a lot of educational material on the website and it was also the issue of the constitutional right to expression.
Counsel for the petitioner, Bytes for All, Advocate Yasser Hamdani, said he could not understand where the country was heading by banning access to information. The judge asked him to wait until next week for the minister’s response. Hamdani said there would be no point to the order if the minister again went for an Umrah. There was laughter in the court room. At the previous hearing, the court had been informed that the minister was away for Umrah. The judge then asked the law officer to ask the minister about her position on the ban over the phone.
Earlier, a single bench had been hearing the case but at the previous hearing the judge had forwarded the matter to the chief justice for hearing by a larger bench. It was fixed before the division bench on Tuesday.
The petitioner said any filtering and blocking of the internet was counterproductive and predatory. The petitioner asked the court to direct the Ministry of Information Technology and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to unblock YouTube.
He said that removing access to YouTube was the modern equivalent of taking away the scholar’s pen.
YouTube had been blocked during former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf’s term. Since then various segments of the society have demanded restoration of access to the website.
The former prime minister had imposed the ban after YouTube refused to remove the The Innocence of the Muslims, considered blasphemous from its website.
The Lahore High Court had asked the minister and the secretary of information technology to appear before the court in August in a petition challenging the ban.
The petitioners’ counsel had argued at the previous hearing that the number of people who accessed The Innocence of Muslims clip on YouTube was a tiny fraction of the number who used it to access educational and Islamic content.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2014.