Free YouTube! Pakistan ban faces court action

Sep 15, 2013 by Rebecca Santana
In this picture taken on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2013, Pakistani university students try to access YouTube in Karachi, Pakistan. For almost a year, Pakistanis wanting to watch the video-sharing website YouTube have had to find other alternatives. The site has been banned since Sept. 17, 2012 after Pakistani officials acting in response outrage across the country over the airing of an anti-Islamic film blocked access to YouTube. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

ToffeeTV has hit an unexpected snag. The Internet startup depended on YouTube to promote "Hokey-Pokey," ''The Umm Nyum Nyum Song" and other language-teaching clips it produces for children, but the video-sharing website has been banned in Pakistan for nearly a year.

The measure was imposed to block videos that Muslims took as insulting and blasphemous. But the unintended consequence has been frustration for many companies, educators and students. A petition to end Internet censorship is before a Pakistani court, and a debate has been rekindled over how to reconcile the right to a free flow of information with a widespread that Islam needs special protections.

ToffeeTV has had to save its clips on its own servers and delay the rollout of its apps, says company co-founder Rabia Garib. "It threw us off our feet," she said. "We're off schedule by about eight months."

While the tech-savvy have ways to get around the ban, the vast majority of Pakistanis who try to view YouTube get this: "Surf Safely! ... The site you are trying to access contains content that is prohibited for from within Pakistan."

The made-in-America trailer for "Innocence of Muslims," the movie of which has never reached cinemas, provoked uproar throughout the Muslim world, and several U.S. diplomatic missions were targeted. In Pakistan, clashes between police and protesters left 19 people dead.

YouTube as well as Facebook were initially blocked although the government soon exempted Facebook, saying it removed the offensive material. At the time, U.S. President Barack Obama's administration asked Google, YouTube's parent, to take down the video. But the company refused, saying the trailer didn't violate its content standards.

The only other countries that block YouTube are Tajikistan, China and Iran, according to Google's transparency report that tracks restrictions of its products. Another 56 countries have localized versions of YouTube that allow for tailoring content to local standards.

Pakistan, a nation of roughly 180 million, has a democratically elected government and a legal system inherited from its former British rulers. But that system also contains significant religious strictures, and disputes over religion frequently end in bloodshed. So at the time the YouTube ban was imposed, many saw it as a necessary calming measure.

Now an advocacy group called Bytes for All is petitioning the Lahore High Court to order an end to all Internet censorship.

Muzzling YouTube "could lead to the opening up of an entire Pandora's box of moral policing and dictatorial controls despite the democracy being in place," said Furhan Hussain of Bytes for All.

At the organization's Islamabad offices, activists say the YouTube case is just the latest example. Over the years the government has periodically banned Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, but the YouTube ban has lasted the longest.

It can be circumvented via VPNs, virtual private networks that mask the user's computer but are prone to viruses and slow the Internet connection.

These proxies are too cumbersome for his staff to deal with, says Jawwad Ahmed Farid, founder and CEO of Karachi-based Alchemy Technologies, which does risk-management training for financial professionals.

It posts short videos of its classes on YouTube to attract business, but uploads fewer of them following the ban, and the volume of Pakistani customers referred through YouTube has fallen, Farid said. "My team finds it very difficult to work with all the proxies in place. It certainly slows it down a bit," he said.

Sidra Qasim is co-CEO of HOMETOWN, a Lahore-based company that helps leather workers to market products such as shoes and belts online. It used YouTube to reach customers and also to teach the workers new techniques. "Now that training part is stopped totally," she said.

A committee of officials from various ministries is looking for solutions and will make the decision on whether to unblock YouTube. But experts aren't sure a technical solution even exists, and Bytes for All and others say that even if the government comes up with a filtering mechanism, they will continue to resist it as censorship.

Kamran Ali, a spokesman for the Ministry of Internet Technology, acknowledged that the ban can be a hardship but said the government must weigh freedom of information against offending the public.

"It's a Muslim country, and this video clearly violates the religious sentiments of the people of Pakistan," he said.

At Air University in Islamabad, some students supported a government-imposed filter. "If they are able to control this blasphemous material that would be a good step," said Waqar ur-Rehman, 21.

But they recognized the difficulty of actually coming up with a system, and some argued against any restrictions, if only because they could be evaded.

"I think the ban shouldn't have been there. It (the movie) hurt a lot of religious sentiments, mine as well, but it was not the right way to do it, because there are so many ways to go around it," said Palwasha Khursheed, who studies electrical engineering.

Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a Muslim cleric, acknowledged the ban was porous, and said Pakistan was missing an opportunity to use technology such as YouTube to educate people about Islam.

He urged the government to lift the ban, but only after installing filters, saying, "We must not allow anyone to attack our cultural values."

One solution would be a localized version of YouTube for Pakistan. But Google would need immunity from prosecution for any offending content, and Pakistani law so far doesn't allow for such an arrangement.

"It is Google's goal to offer local versions of YouTube to more places worldwide, but it takes time," said Google in a statement to The Associated Press in request for comment about the court case. "The localization process can be lengthy as we research laws and build relationships with local content creators."

Explore further: Belarus tightens control over online media

More information: www.toffeetv.com
www.bytesforall.pk

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Pakistan's 'cyberwar' for control of the web

Sep 12, 2013

In a dingy Internet cafe, Abdullah gets round the censors with one click and logs onto YouTube, officially banned for a year and at the heart of Pakistan's cyberwar for control of the web.

Pakistan expected to unblock YouTube

Dec 29, 2012

Pakistan is expected to unblock access to the popular video sharing website YouTube on Saturday after taking measures to filter blasphemous material and pornography, a cabinet minister said.

Pakistan lifts Facebook ban after page removed

May 31, 2010

(AP) -- Pakistan lifted a ban on Facebook on Monday after officials from the social networking site apologized for a page deemed offensive to Muslims and removed its contents, a top information technology official said.

Pakistan blocks Twitter over contentious tweets

May 20, 2012

(AP) -- Pakistan blocked the social networking website Twitter for much of Sunday because it refused to remove tweets considered offensive to Islam, said one of the country's top telecommunications officials.

Recommended for you

Digital dilemma: How will US respond to Sony hack?

3 hours ago

The detective work blaming North Korea for the Sony hacker break-in appears so far to be largely circumstantial, The Associated Press has learned. The dramatic conclusion of a Korean role is based on subtle ...

UN General Assembly OKs digital privacy resolution

6 hours ago

The U.N. General Assembly has approved a resolution demanding better digital privacy protections for people around the world, another response to Edward Snowden's revelations about U.S. government spying.

Online privacy to remain thorny issue: survey

8 hours ago

Online privacy will remain a thorny issue over the next decade, without a widely accepted system that balances user rights and personal data collection, a survey of experts showed Thursday.

Spain: Google News vanishes amid 'Google Tax' spat

Dec 16, 2014

Google on Tuesday followed through with a pledge to shut down Google News in Spain in reaction to a Spanish law requiring news publishers to receive payment for content even if they are willing to give it away.

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Msafwan
1 / 5 (2) Sep 15, 2013
The owner of the video is selfish. He can simply block/delete/edit the video from viewing from certain country (like all music video do) but didn't do so. As result, both Youtube & government of Pakistan and nation leaders have to go thru this trouble... why is the uploader do not hold any responsibility at all? why do other people have to solve their problem??
Humpty
2.2 / 5 (10) Sep 15, 2013
The thought nazis rule religion...

Especially when it suits them.

I saw the blasphemous video - and thought, "What a crock of silly shit to wind yourself up over."

Only a bunch of complete fuckwit fundamentalists would react to that.....

And so they did - not only declaring THAT vid to be satans anus - but also chopping off access to the 999 million other silly to sublime videos on Youtube.

Religion is for shit heads - REALLY - they cause more problems than anything - the islam nazis fight with the non islams, the jew nazis fight with the non jews and the christian nazis fight with the non christians - and all the islam nazis, jew nazis and christian nazis fight with each other.

Shoot the lot of them.
depth12
1 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2013
The owner of the video is selfish. He can simply block/delete/edit the video from viewing from certain country (like all music video do) but didn't do so. As result, both Youtube & government of Pakistan and nation leaders have to go thru this trouble... why is the uploader do not hold any responsibility at all? why do other people have to solve their problem??


you are the most offensive person on the planet. Then by your logic all religious videos (islamic) who preach should be banned, because they do not take responsibility for the content they spew against other religions and atheists. you are a knuckle head arent you. All religious content(islamic) should be taken responsiblity for by the uploader,.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.