Reporters Without Borders today condemned the decision of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on 26 July to add 34 new web addresses to the list of sites to which it blocks access. For the most part they were Baluch nationalist sites, online radio stations and sites relating to the Sindhi minority.
“We deplore these latest filtering measures and we insist, yet again, that it is not the PTA's job to decide whether websites should be blocked,” the press freedom organisation said. “We believe that such decisions should be taken by a judge, after equitable legal proceedings, and definitely not by an entity under government control.”
Don't Block the Blog, a collective of Pakistani bloggers that combats censorship, told Reporters Without Borders there was little point to these blocking measures as information always found a way of getting out on the Internet. They just hurt the government's image while giving the targeted website's content a credibility it did not always deserve, the group said.
The collective stressed that it favoured online free expression. “Pakistani voices, be they supportive of the government or dissenting rants, should all be given a chance to be heard,” one of its founders said.
Most of the newly-blocked sites are linked to the Baluch nationalist movement, which wants independence for the southwestern province of Baluchistan. There has been sporadic fighting between the movement's armed supporters and government forces in the province for years. Online radio stations that report on the army's operations in Baluchistan have also been blocked.
Two Sindhi sites were also added to the blacklist, including one operated by the Washington-based World Sindhi Institute, which defends human rights in the southeastern province of Sindh. And several of the web addresses on the list do not in fact correspond to any existing website.
The PTA previously ordered the blocking of five websites on 25 April on the grounds that they were posting “misleading information”. Four were Baluch nationalist sites and the fifth was a Hindu extremist site. As is the case now, the decision was not endorsed by a judge.
Before that, the PTA blocked 12 websites on 28 February for posting the controversial Mohammed cartoons that were first published in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. They included the blog platform Blogger (Blogspot.com), which hosted one of the websites that posted the cartoons. Access to the entire platform was blocked within Pakistan, with the result that millions of blogs disappeared from the Pakistani Internet.
Don't Block the Blog reported today that Blogger is again accessible. But the collective stressed that this is not necessarily definitive, as the blocking of the site was already lifted twice, on 2 and 29 May, only to be reinstated a few days later.
The list of 34 newly-blocked websites: