Pakistan: Moral Policing – a vicious cycle

The best advice anyone can give to the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) is to stick to the task of making information and communication technologies friendly and accessible to the people of Pakistan, instead of spending their resources on the enforcement of right-wing self-righteous ideologies.

Pakistan’s e-governance setup has a severely tainted history, which clearly reflects as inefficient governance structures on the ground. While PTA should be protecting users’ rights online, it has indulged itself in senseless ideological warfare on the Internet.

Recently, the news of active campaigning endorsed by the Government to ban porn and objectionable content over the Internet has started surfacing. The argument governing this campaign is that porn results in ‘sexual violence’ and ‘immorality’ within the society, a statement which is vague and flawed at the same time. This not only suggests that the pre-Internet Pakistan had no sexual violence, but also that disconnecting the masses from access to information about certain issues can lead to their resolution.

The problem with the morality induced bans is that morality is subjective and open for interpretations by individuals. For instance, ban on porn may start with blocking of pictures and videos of people having sex, and end up with making sure that no medical documentation of the human body exists, as evident from the past.   

A step further can be that all Art Schools and Artists should be forced to narrow their work down to religious calligraphy because that is all the moral police allow to remain within the scope of acceptable aesthetics. In addition, this starts a vicious circle that does not have a starting or ending point.

At the judiciary’s end, several petitions demanding ban on porn are pending in the Supreme Court, Sindh High Court, and Lahore High Court. Interestingly, all similar petitions were filed this year and have gained priority attention faster than any of the real human rights violation cases, which have remained untouched since decades. However, to-date there is no court orders to ban any content in Pakistan.

At the extreme end, many arguments pressurizing the enforcement of bans on child pornography appear fairly valid. However, is curtailing people’s access to child porn websites a solution to ending this heinous act?

According to the 2011 Report of Mr. Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression it is important to take holistic measures to curb this form of child abuse by addressing root causes, such as child prostitution and trafficking, rather than shallow ‘blocking measures’ which are temporary and ineffective.

It is extremely important to highlight the fact that placing bans based on abstract and subjective arguments of morality and self-righteousness are not only impossible to justify satisfactorily, they are also in direct violation of freedom of speech and expression, and free flow of communications - the basic rights enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan. As we have seen in the past, such bans and infringements on civil liberties only result in initiating processes of tyrannous authoritarianism.

Despite the widespread lack of faith in the potential of the Pakistani society, it must be realized that there are no mass campaigns demanding ban on any communication channels including the Internet. The exception however is a few right-wing journalists, who claim to reflect the entire society for personal publicity and career progression motives.
Bytes for All, Pakistan condemns any restrictions on freedom of expression and information access in online or offline spaces because morality induced bans are only counter productive and harmful for the development of a free, progressive, and socially responsible society.
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