LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday ordered the temporary blocking of the Facebook website until the next hearing on May 31.
On the judge’s orders and in compliance with the orders of the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoIT), the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) directed all internet service providers to block Facebook till further orders. Both the petitioner Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ahmed and the PTA agreed to let the court make a decision after an initial hearing and a futile attempt to resolve the situation through mediation. Earlier, the petitioner had asked the court to order the PTA to immediately ban the use of Facebook in the country.
The popular social networking site, with 45 million users in Pakistan, has been the target of countrywide protests for hosting a caricature competition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and for refusing to remove the page. As court proceedings began in Lahore, more than 50 emotionally-charged lawyers criticised PTA director Mudassir Hussain’s testimony regarding the impact of the site’s closure. Hussain said that it was impossible to block the website as it would hurt Pakistan’s economy, adding that the country could lose its internet facilities.
He said that the PTA had already blocked the link for the competition page since the evening of May 18. However contrary to his statement, lawyers presented in court a printout of the webpage taken after 10 pm on May 18, demonstrating that the webpage had not been blocked. Lawyers then proceeded to show the functioning page to the judge. Furthermore, Advocate Muhammad Azhar Siddique, chairman Judicial Activism Panel, argued before the court that Pakistani Muslims were ready to face any financial loss for the prevention of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (pbuh). After initial proceedings, the court asked both parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.
Hussain said while he was a Muslim, steps to close down Facebook would bring a bad name to Pakistan in the world. Neither party could agree and finally decided to leave the decision to the court. Ahmed filed the petition on behalf of the Islamic Lawyers Movement. “According to Article 2-A of the Constitution, which says no practice against religion can be allowed in the country, the competition was illegal,” he said. LHC Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry has also ordered Ahmed and others to assist the court regarding international laws in the present case. Hussain has also been asked to file a detailed report.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 20th, 2010.