Blasphemous content: Court summons IT secretary over YouTube ban

Says if PTA lacks the expertise, it should seek foreign experts.

Our Correspondent July 16, 2013
PHC says if PTA lacks the expertise, it should seek foreign experts. DESIGN: ANUSHAY FURQAN


The Peshawar High Court (PHC) has summoned the information technology (IT) secretary to appear on July 31 and explain whether blasphemous content on YouTube can be filtered.

On June 27, the court had summoned Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) officials and technical experts over the country’s ban on YouTube. However, when PTA Assistant Director Jawad could not satisfy the court, the division bench expressed concerns and observed court orders were being flouted.

The popular video sharing website was blocked across the country in September 2012 by former prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf after the trailer of anti-Islam film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ sparked outrage and violence across the Muslim world. The ban remained in effect after Google turned down Islamabad’s request to remove the video.

Later, Advocate Mian Muhibullah Kakakhel challenged the ban and argued before the PHC that it was affecting education as students could not search necessary content for their studies. Kakakhel requested the court to direct authorities to filter all material deemed ‘blasphemous’ and unblock YouTube.

During the last hearing, the bench maintained that if PTA lacked the expertise to remove unwanted videos, there was no reason why it could not seek experts from other countries to do the job.

During the hearing on Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Iqbal Mohmand and assistant director Jawad said the PTA could not submit its reply due to time constraints. They said a similar case has been fixed for July 25 at the Lahore High Court.

“If unwanted material is uploaded against any strong institution, you filter it without delay, but you are completely shunned over this issue,” observed Justice Khan. He also questioned whether the PTA has sought the services of any outside expert.

The PTA official replied saying Google had denied setting up an office in the country. Though the bench acknowledged they cannot force Google, the PTA should seek experts necessary to filter ‘blasphemous’ content from YouTube.

Kakakhel claimed intelligence agencies have the capability to filter unwanted material from the internet. The bench, however, summoned the IT secretary to appear and submit his reply.

On June 25, the PHC had directed the federal government to adopt the proposal of the inter-ministerial committee to sign treaties with Google, YouTube and other service providers to establish regional offices in the country, especially after two different pages on Facebook were found containing blasphemous material.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2013.