It is ironic that the most transparent thing about the government’s efforts to censor the internet was the tender process it used to award the contract for censoring software to Canadian technology company Netsweeper. Transparency, after all, is a democratic virtue not too far removed from freedom of speech. That Islamabad abided by one while trying to suppress the other is a twisted turn of fate, and a sign that while we as a nation have set ourselves firmly on the road to democracy, we still have a long way to go.
The government’s efforts to censor something as massive and ever evolving as the internet are doomed to failure, but they do impose real social and economic costs to the country. For starters, we find it obscene that a shadowy group of people within the government is allowed to decide what is morally acceptable on behalf of the whole nation. There is no democratic oversight over what gets blocked and what is deemed acceptable. Essentially then, under the guise of blocking content perceived to be obscene, the government is blocking political and religious views that a group of individuals disagree with.
The right of citizens to freely express themselves, even espouse ideas that the majority finds disagreeable, is a democratic right of every Pakistani. We support the efforts of civil society groups to pressure the government into ceasing its censorship activities and see hope the courts will side with these advocates of freedom of speech. As recently as 2007, the Supreme Court struck down a law — the Hasba bill — establishing a policing mechanism to implement Sharia in K-P, on the grounds that it violated the Constitution. And the higher courts have largely overruled absurd interpretations of Articles 63 and 63 of the Constitution. A society that seeks to ban everything under the sun will, in all likelihood, end up becoming a place where creativity and even perfectly healthy leisure/entertainment activities will be looked down upon.