Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) has instructed sector watchdog the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to implement a URL filtration system to block websites that contain blasphemous or indecent content. Pro Pakistani reports that the move was prompted directly by the nation’s Prime Minister, with the support of the President. Previous attempts to introduce a nationwide censorship programme prompted protests that the system would limit freedom of speech and might be used for to silence political opposition or criticism of government bodies. Under the new policy, the PTA will take control of the filtration system. However, the plan has already come under fire in light of recent reports that the PTA has abused its current powers by instructing internet service providers (ISPs) to block websites criticising the regulator’s chairman Farooq Awan.
The policy directive issued by the MoIT said: ‘The unchecked and free flow of blasphemous and pornographic content at mass level through internet in Pakistan is in direct friction with the basic principles of Islamic way of life as reflected in the Objectives Resolution as well as the articles 19 and 31 of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.’ The directive went on to say that several petitions had been filed with the superior judiciary and, as a result, the courts have directed the government to address the ‘obnoxious content’ more effectively. To that end, the MoIT called upon the PTA to ‘establish at the earliest a dedicated unit…with the mandate to take requisite measures for proactively and independently blocking the websites displaying the blasphemous and pornographic content.’ In an effort to restrict the potential misapplication of the censorship system, the MoIT added the caveat that it ‘must be ensured that any system… [is not] misused by anyone for political gains.’