The Lahore High Court appears to be taking a clear view on the matter of banning access to YouTube in Pakistan. Earlier this week, several top officials in charge of regulating internet services in the country were summoned to court on the matter.
The banning of YouTube is a policy issue, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah observed, the government must take a position on the internet policy, keeping in view the constitutional, cultural and social norms of the people of Pakistan.
On August 2, the LHC summoned the information technology minister and the inter-ministerial committee secretary for August 7, to explain their position on the matter of restoring access to YouTube and blocking blasphemous content on it after the minister and the secretary did not appear for the hearing, despite court summons.
Earlier, the LHC had examined Google’s email to the Ministry of Information Technology that stated that content deemed offensive carried the warning: Viewer discretion is advised. The court observed that a possible solution to the matter was to ignore such content and move on.
The onus of taking the decision to unblock the website for internet users lay with the government, the LHC stated, “The policy the government will make should keep in mind that there is no way to effectively block information on the internet.”
Despite the fact that access to YouTube and controversial films has been formally blocked in Pakistan, they can still be viewed.
The court observed that considering this fact, the ban on YouTube did not achieve much.
IT experts Farieha Aziz and Khurram Zafar had informed the court that Virtual University (VU) served more than 13,900 subscribers through 7,000 educational videos that had been viewed over 11.5 million times. The Khan Academy had an online set up in Pakistan and as many as 1.2 million subscribers watched educational content through 3,600 videos that had been viewed at least 285 million times. They also submitted that the amount of offensive content reported from all countries to Google was approximately 9,000 out of 120 million videos.
YouTube was blocked 11 months ago in Pakistan following orders of then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. Various segments of the society have since then demanded the restoration of access to the website.
Last week, the Lahore High Court Bar Association adopted a resolution demanding action against three Supreme Court judges including the chief justice, for changing the schedule of the presidential elections.
The LHCBA general house had requested the acting president to send a reference to the Supreme Judicial Council against Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Jawwad Khawaja and Justice Azmat Saeed for ordering the change in election schedule which, according to the bar, did not fall in the apex court’s domain.
Last week, an LHC judge refused to hear the bail application of Malik Ishaq, leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly known as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi), after the petitioner’s counsel had objected to the court’s direction to the investigation officer. Bhakkar police had registered two FIRs against Ishaq and had arrested him three months ago.
He is accused of hate speech and trying to create unrest in the area.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2013.