For two days — November 21-22 — the International Movie Database (IMDb) website was blocked, to the considerable mystification of all, there being no official explanation for the block. The IMDb is one of the most popular websites on the internet, and ranked at number seven on the “Top 10 Must-know” entertainment websites. It is owned by Amazon.com and is a vast repository of news and box-office reports from around the world — and a very popular website for people in Pakistan to visit, a country where film is one of the few easily and cheaply available forms of recreation. It has never been known for the promotion of anything other than its core product — light entertainment — and it is difficult to see quite why those who guard the moral bastions of the state saw fit to deny access to it. There was speculation on social media that the ban may be linked to the inclusion of the video that triggered the banning of YouTube over a year ago, but a search of IMDb reveals that the offending blasphemous video is not listed there.
By the morning of November 23, the IMDb was accessible again via most ISP’s. There has been no clear explanation of why the Interministerial Committee decided on the block. It was followed by numerous complaints to the PTA by ISPs and individual citizens. Speculation abounds, none of it with much validating substance. What is, however, clear is that the government apparently for the most whimsical of reasons, stated or unstated, will arbitrarily block internet content thus driving a coach and horses through a slew of civil liberties. With one global information resource — YouTube — blocked on the thinnest of pretences, there is an increasing sense that Pakistan is a state seeking to limit freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a precious civil liberty, a liberty that is increasingly narrowed by a state intent on controlling what its citizens say in some respects. So please explain, Government of Pakistan — just what threat did the IMDb present?
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2013.
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