November 30, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3411

Pakistani Journalist Huma Imtiaz Criticizes Pakistan’s Recent Ban on Facebook and YouTube, Says: "The Pakistan Government has… Turned a Blind Eye to the Abundance of Religious Hate Material that is… Available on the Internet"

November 30, 2010
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 3411

In the summer of 2010, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), banned hundreds of websites, including Facebook and the video sharing site YouTube, following widescale protests by religious organizations in Pakistan as well as a court order against the publication of content that was deemed blasphemous of Islam. The Lahore High Court defended the decision to ban the website, arguing "If the Western nations can ban the veil, why can’t we ban Facebook?"[1]

The ban literally cut the Pakistani people off from the internet’s most popular websites. Salman Taseer, a campaigner for secularism and Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, criticized the Pakistani government’s ban on social networking sites, saying that information-based corporations such as Facebook are significant in the current era and are a great source of knowledge.[2] Later, the ban was lifted in late-May after some writers questioned the wisdom behind such bans.[3]

In a recent article, senior Pakistani journalist Huma Imtiaz drew attention to the double standard behind the Pakistani authorities’ decision to ban the websites while taking no action against several jihadist websites that are preaching hatred and violence against various Islamic sects such as Shi’ite Muslims and Ahmadi Muslims in Pakistan.

Following are some excerpts from her article:[4]

"A Simple Search on YouTube for [Militant Commander] Masood Azhar… Reveals… Speeches by Azhar; Some Exhort Muslims to Rise up Against the U.S. and India…"

"Since the 1950s, successive governments, both military and civilian, have taken pains to ensure that the media has been scrutinized, censored and harassed.

"Even as the twenty-first century has dawned upon Pakistan, the cycle continues. In 2009, the Pakistan government removed videos, of a Pakistan Army officer allegedly beating a Swat resident, from YouTube. Later on, videos of President [Asif] Zardari saying ‘shut up’ to a supporter at a public gathering were erased off of YouTube. In 2009, following a petition in the courts, the Lahore High Court slapped a ban on Facebook, which was later lifted. Even, which documents crimes committed against the Ahmadi sect, is routinely banned by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA).

"Which makes it even all the more surprising that with such stringent control over the media and the internet, the Pakistan government has so far, turned a blind eye to the abundance of religious hate material that is floating around and readily available on the internet.

"A simple search on YouTube for Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed, a militant organization, reveals a long list of speeches by Azhar. Some exhort Muslims to rise up against the United States and India, others border on the comical, where Azhar dubs television as the cause of all evils. Users frequently comment on the videos, praising Masood Azhar and his ideology."[5]

"Haq Char Yaar… is Another Example of [the Various] Websites that Incite Hate Against Different Religious Sects [like Shi’ite and Ahmadi Muslims] in the Country"

"Haq Char Yaar, which describes itself as a website [whose purpose is] to ‘expose Shias and Qadianis’ is another example of [the various] websites that incite hate against different religious sects [like Shi’ite and Ahmadi Muslims] in the country.[6] Run by supporters of the now banned organization Sipah-e-Sahaba-Pakistan, even viewing the website requires one to accept faith in the finality of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as the last prophet. Two options are given to users, ‘accept’ or ‘decline,’ those who decline are labelled ‘munkir’ or non-believers. Clicking on ‘Decline’ leads users to a page with two poems, one with a first line that says, ‘Shias have no links to Islam.’[7]

"Ansar Al Jihad Network’s website is another popular jihadi website that is accessible in Pakistan.[8] The forum has been closed for membership, but features videos, press releases and discussions about the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While one could not see the discussion on the forums, it is astounding to see the sheer number of videos that have been produced by the As-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media Publication, Al-Qaeda’s media cell, featuring members of the Taliban that have been killed, or messages from current Taliban leaders fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan.[9]

"Videos range from As-Sahab documentaries to press statements of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Here, news is classified as being from a ‘kuffar news source’ if posted from a source other than the Taliban media cell. has archival footage of As-Sahab productions, with multiple links to download, for example Ayman-Al-Zawahiri videos. And if you can’t find what you’re looking for, one can even ‘ask a mujahedeen brother’ to send you the links that will help answer your question.

"’s forum is another treasure trove for the aspiring jihadi or sympathizer, featuring the latest videos from Osama Bin Laden on Pakistan’s flood relief efforts. Users comment freely here, [for example, one such post stated]‘God save our sheikh and leader, lion of Islam, Osama bin Laden. God bless you and care and we have made from your followers in the world and the Hereafter."’

"During the Facebook Ban Period, PTA [Pakistan Telecommunications Authority] Decided to Block Hundreds More Websites than were Actually Mandated"

"And while lawyers [in Pakistan recently] were riled up about Draw Muhammad Day on Facebook, no one seems to have filed a petition against this page[10] – where the latest videos from As-Sahab Media and other jihadi sources are regularly posted. Judging from the activity and frequency of posts, this is one of the most actively maintained Facebook pages.

"YouTube features other videos that highlight the Taliban’s struggle against ‘apostate forces’ such as this one titled ‘Night operations targeting apostate forces in Pakistan’[11] and, where users can watch militants walking down a rocky terrain and preparing for battle by loading their arms. Some faces are blurred out in the video, and the night operations consist of sounds of gunfire in the dark. Right when users begin to lose interest, one can see computer animation, to depict the area being attacked and later on, footage of the arms lying on the ground as militants crowd around at a check post. In the morning, the militants show off the gear and arms that they have recovered and the names and pictures of the ‘shaheeds’ [martyrs]…"

"While even Interpol recently reported on the dramatic increase in extremist websites and the difficulties faced in blocking them, if one can find jihadi websites in a matter of minutes, surely it would take the PTA or the Ministry of IT and Telecom as much time to find and block the websites. During the Facebook ban period, PTA decided to block hundreds more websites than were actually mandated by the court, many of which did not even feature the ‘Draw Mohammad Day’ event or cartoons that had been posted on Facebook and were, for the most part, proxy bypassing websites or websites that would allow you to browse the internet anonymously."

"[It is Time for the Government to Redouble Their Efforts to Block Websites that are Propagating Hatred against Religious Sects"

"In a telephone interview, PTA spokesman Khurram Mehran said that it is not the PTA that decides what websites are to be blocked, but rather the decision is made by a committee set up by the Ministry of IT and Telecom. According to the Secretary for the Ministry of IT and Telecom, Najibullah Malik, there is a mechanism in place for blocking such websites that is enforced by the committee. The members include representatives from the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and intelligence and law enforcement agencies. ‘Whenever we get reports about something that is anti-state or anti-Islam, we ask PTA to block the URL…’

"That these websites are accessible in Pakistan is of grave concern. Multiple terror attacks have wreaked havoc all over the country, and websites such as the ones mentioned above are not helping the security situation. However, [South Asian analyst] Dr. Maria Sultan… says that due to Pakistan’s social structure, not many Pakistanis are affected by jihadi websites. ‘It’s a problem of legality and understanding how active the religious ministry is. The religious ministry has to give information to the Information Ministry about them. Religion is such a sensitive issue so it’s not clear when they’re about religion and when they’ve crossed over into extremism…’

"While freedom of expression is a fundamental right and there may only be a small percentage of the population that is accessing these websites, there is a genuine fear among many that such websites could be used to indoctrinate the confused amongst the younger generation, who have access to the internet and are looking for a way to join a cause that may seem to be ‘the right way.’

"While a military operation continues in the tribal areas of the country and thousands have died in terror attacks and have been displaced due to the war, it is time for the government to redouble their efforts to block websites that are propagating hatred against religious sects and inciting violence against the people of Pakistan."


[1] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), June 1, 2010.

[2] The News (Pakistan), May 26, 2010.

[3] The News (Pakistan), May 28, 2010.

[4] (Pakistan), October 8, 2010. The text of the article has been lightly edited for clarity.

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