Youtube not at the cost of widespread systematic censorship

Islamabad, January 06, 2013: Over a hundred days have passed since YouTube was hastily banned in Pakistan by the state authorities over a video allegedly insulting Islam. While the video remains, Youtube is now inaccessible for all the citizens including small and large businesses, civil society organizations, educational and research institutions.

Bytes for All, Pakistan has consistently condemned this move and has protested through various channels demanding citizens’ unhindered access to all communication channels and online information sources, which is a fundamental constitutional right of all Pakistani citizens.
More recently, Bytes for All, Pakistan launched a social media campaign titled, ‘Access is My Right!’ This is a visuals based campaign illustrated by young artists and focuses on Internet rights and freedom of expression in the country. This campaign proved to be a massive success at local and global level. The campaign is now joined by thousands of people, who have been spreading the word by sharing and retweeting its content demanding an end to the state sponsored, hegemonic Internet filtering and censorship.  Internet censorship, filtering, citizens surveillance and communication blocking is proving to be dangerously detrimental to Pakistan’s democratic process.
On 28th December Mr. Rehman Malik, Interior Minister, Government of Pakistan tweeted, “I chaird a high level mting w/all stakeholders on the Utube.Gud job by PTA 2 block anti iIslamic material!Pl xpect Utube unblocked in 24hrs” 
While it seemed that rational sensibilities were returning into the Government quarters, the next tweet from Rehman Malik raised only red flags of concerns. He tweeted saying that PTA was finalizing negotiations for acquiring a powerful firewall software to filter the Internet for objectionable content.
Bytes for All, Pakistan has been expressing grave concerns over such a repressive move for a long time, and have been campaigning against it. We believe that an internet accessibility so highly compromised and censored is as good as having no internet at all. Such internet access, comparable to those provided by highly oppressive regimes such as China’s and Iran’s are constitutionally unacceptable to the Pakistani society.
We urge the authorities to stop moral policing. If the price to get the Youtube ban lifted is a powerful internet filtering firewall exercising much broader censorship in Pakistan, then it is even worst than the Youtube ban itself. We want Youtube back but not at the cost of more systematic and ruthless censorship and surveillance regime. Implementing such a firewall in Pakistan will ensure country’s regression into the dark ages for times to come. 
With such a mechanism, the internet connectivity would become slow and unreliable, privacy and safety of citizens would become compromised, freedom of expression would be muffled, free access to unbiased information would end, the minorities and views of disagreements would be silenced, Pakistan’s already tarnished image in the world as a developing nation would be further dulled, and most importantly, the nascent democratic system would be damaged forever.
Bytes for All, Pakistan would once again, in a state of utter alarm, express its deepest concerns that the restoration of Youtube in return of a bigger and much worse system of demonic civilian oppression through censorship, surveillance and privacy violations is unacceptable.
We request the larger human rights movement in the country to take serious note of this deteriorating situation. We urge, UN Human Rights Council, human rights friendly nations at the UN and international human rights organizations to play their role in upholding Internet Freedom & Freedom  of Expression in Pakistan. It is particularly important because the Government of Pakistan has recently been elected as member of UN Human Rights Council and it should be made accountable for better human rights standards in the country. 
All of us need to work together in our struggle for a surveillance and regulations free cyberspace.
Afterall, Net Freedom is one of the most important indicators for flourishing democracy in any country.
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”.
For more information:
Shahzad Ahmad
Bytes for All, Pakistan
House 273, Street 17, Sector F- 10/2, Islamabad, Pakistan
Cell. +92 333 5236060