Islamabad – Saturday, March 17, 2012: Today, the democratic government of Pakistan is celebrating its achievements, when President of Pakistan made his fifth consecutive speech to the joint session of Parliament in the federal capital Islamabad. On this important day, it is extremely disappointing to note that despite severe criticism, Government is going ahead and continuing with its plans to filter the internet in Pakistan.
Taking this opportunity, we wish to reiterate this fact again that in the 21st century, there are no conflicting opinions about the importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for democratic development and role of freedom of expression, opinion and speech in progressing modern democratic societies. Those negate such basic rights are generally authoritarian regimes, far from democratic principles.
It is a universally known fact that Internet is fast becoming a driver of growth, development and democratic discourse. It must be realized that this is the single most accessible medium of communication through which people can voice a wide range of opinions with the entire world.
Recent years have seen the Internet being actively used in Pakistan by political parties and independent politicians for interaction with the masses. This medium has also served an important role in the dissemination of political messages and agendas in an effective manner. Internet also helps enhance the outreach of politicians and political parties to their constituency & potential voters. Likewise, the citizens too, have been able to respond to these messages in the most interactive and dynamic ways to share their aspirations and dreams for a better Pakistan.
Despite Internet being commercially available in Pakistan for almost two decades, only the past 3-5 years have seen this new phenomena of political parties benefiting from the Internet to strengthen their cause and engage not only the political workers but also the citizens. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was the first party to have harnessed the strength of Social Media to engage with their voters, however, seeing the ultimate potential of the medium, other large and small political parties of all different factions and political ideologies soon followed suit.
However, we are now seeing very depressing developments in the country, where government is stepping up efforts to chain the Internet and larger cyberspace in Pakistan. It is ironic that a democratically elected, progressive government in Pakistan is leading these hegemonic developments against its own citizens. These efforts will hugely undermine citizens’ fundamental constitutional rights of speech, opinion and expression.
It must be highlighted that despite the importance of the Internet, specific groups with significant influence over the governmental authorities have never been comfortable with its positive power. Repeated attempts to officially sabotage digital communication sphere targeting political discourse have resulted in Internet freedom being severely compromised in Pakistan. This is alarming and detrimental to the country's nascent democracy.
In the past decade, we have seen that the Government of Pakistan have played very negative role in the development, openness & accessibility of Internet based communications. In the name of regulations & for the sake of so called national security and protection of religion, the citizens of Pakistan have had their voices repeatedly silenced particularly from Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) & Balochistan. It is very unfortunate that Government of Pakistan governs the whole digital communication sphere in the country in the name of “blasphemous”, “unislamic”, “offensive”, “objectionable”, “unethical”, “immoral” content.
To uphold democratic principles & citizens’ fundamental constitutional rights, Bytes for All, Pakistan urge all political parties and independent politicians to realize the importance of egalitarian Internet, and join hands with us to speak up against this atrocious plan of the government to filter the Internet. We need to organize ourselves against this plan without falling into the trap of the status quo’s self-determined definitions of national and moral security. After all, open Internet is beneficial to all socio-political developments in the country.
We have said this before, and we will continue saying this. A society without fundamental rights particularly freedom of expression, speech, opinion and choice cannot call itself a democratic society.
About Bytes for All, Pakistan
Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization and a network of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and practitioners. It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening social justice movements in the country. Its mission is “ICTs for development, democracy and social justice”. www.bytesforall.pk
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