We are approaching a year since YouTube was banned in the country in September 2012 on the orders of then prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf to stop access to a blasphemous film uploaded on the site. The said film had led to massive protests in the country. The continued blockage of the entire sight – widely used for educational, work and recreational purposes – by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has been challenged before the Lahore High Court by an NGO – Bytes for All – which has said that the ban amounts to a violation of the right to access information and to counter propaganda. The petitioner for the NGO has also argued that Islam preaches tolerance.
Hearing the case, Justice Mansoor Ali Shah rejected a request that the blocked site be temporarily reopened, but ordered the Ministry of Information Technology to submit suggestions on the matter by July 25. The ministry has said it cannot block individual URLs, and therefore needs to keep the entire YouTube sight off the internet. This assertion has been firmly denied by Bytes for All, which says the PTA has the capability to block a specific URL and has indeed done so in some other cases. Technically speaking, this certainly makes sense. The entire issue of the ban on YouTube has assumed ridiculous proportions. It is very odd that the ministry should express fear over unrest in the country if it is unblocked when in other countries there seems to be no major problem in this respect. Are all the other Muslim nations simply much more sensible than we are? After all, users always have a choice as to what they access on their computers and tablets, and the PTA can also bloc the offensive material if it so chooses. Rumour has it the issue involves a dispute between the government of Pakistan and Google, which owns YouTube. A representative of Google told the court that the matter was being examined. We hope the truth will surface during the court hearing. It is also worth noting that YouTube continues to be accessed through proxies, making the government action seem particularly senseless.