Right to information: YouTube ban equated with stopping blasphemy
LAHORE: A group of lawyers favouring the ban on YouTube staged protested demonstration outside the Lahore High Court against “blasphemy or any steps taken to defend blasphemers.”
Bytes for All, the petitioner, is seeking withdrawal of the ban on the popular video sharing website. Its counsel Yasser Latif Hamdani and four officials appeared at the LHC to attend the proceedings.
During the hearing, Advocate Azhar Siddique, the counsel opposed to lifting of the ban, alleged that Bytes for All was seeking restoration of the website because it had a Zionist agenda. He said he would present evidence of 26 Zionist plots in this regard.
Responding to the allegations, Hamdani said his client wanted the ban to be because free flow of information was the right of every individual.
Siddique, chairman of the Judicial Activism Panel, was admonished by Justice Mansoor Ali Shah when he was told that Siddique had been watching a YouTube video in the courtroom a few minutes before the proceedings started.
Justice Shah remarked that Siddique had been opposing the reopening of YouTube for the general public but if he was watching videos on it himself, it was hypocrisy.
A representative of Bytes for All was also chastised and her voice recorder was confiscated till the next hearing. She had put her voice recorder near a loud speaker in the court room to record the proceedings. She apologised to the judge but he issued her a show cause notice for contempt of court.
Earlier, a deputy attorney general presented a reply from the Minister of Information Technology Anushay Rehman.
It stated that after the posting of a controversial movie on YouTube, the government had banned the website on orders of the Supreme Court. The judge remarked that the order was limited to blocking of that particular video.
Quoting the minister, the law officer said due to lack of technology, the government did not have mechanism to block specific contents from a website. He said the government was trying to obtain filters for internet like those used by the Chinese and Saudi Arabian governments. The judge remarked that the position of the government had not changed in 9 months.
Hamdani said Pakistan was democratic country and could put unconstitutional and undemocratic sanctions on the rights of the people. He said no rules or laws permitted the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to put ban on internet content. He said the ban violated Article 19, 19-A and 14 of the Constitution.
He rebutted the claim of the opposing counsel that reopening of YouTube was tantamount to blasphemy, saying that seeing blasphemous material could not be a crime. He said there was a lot of academic and entertainment material on YouTube and various universities benefitted from using it.
Amicus curie Farieha Aziz, a representative of BoloBhi, also appeared before the court and stressed upon the need for reopening YouTube, saying those who wanted to use it could use proxies to gain access. She said the ban had become useless.
Advocate Azhar Siddique said until the government developed a mechanism to filter objectionable material, the ban should continue.
Justice Shah remarked, “Today, if YouTube has been banned for just one objectionable video, tomorrow someone will seek to ban some other video. Why not block the entire internet?”
Siddique also requested the court to hear Osman Zaheer, whom he introduced as internet expert. Zaheer is the man among the founding team of MillatFacebook, an “Islamic” version of Facebook launched after it was banned in 2010.