Tightening the Authoritarian Noose Around the People’s Neck

Source: flare.pk

Pakistan is not a country we should feel proud of anymore. It has increasingly become an entity that is acting hostile to the people it is supposed to stand for. This is clear and evident by the recent curbs on political freedom and freedom of speech in the current year reminiscent of the years of the military dictatorship in the country. However, the comment of the current Chairman PTA, who happens to be a military officer (surprise, surprise) is unprecedented.

The PTA Chairman Maj. Gen. (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa, whose name sounds eerily related to the current Army Chief, said that social media in Pakistan should be blocked in the manner of China and the UAE. He recommended that Pakistan should develop its own social media channels to allow for state censorship and censor inappropriate content. Appointed in December 2018, under the able leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, General Bajwa mainly focused on “blasphemous content” to make his case of taking away the right of citizens to use social media to express their voices. If anyone had doubts about democracy being under threat in Pakistan, this statement should remove it.

The Chairman PTA was testifying to the Senate panel examining purported grievances where he remarked that “either the technical abilities of the organization be enhanced or the allow them to block social media websites to stop the circulation of blasphemous material.”  Even though nobody is ever going to explain what a retired general is doing serving this position and one which he is most likely not qualified for, his comments will largely go unaccounted for other than some fringe criticism on the social media of all the places. Nobody is going to mention it on the mainstream media and any criticism on the national news is improbable.

Surely, for the PTA chairman, blocking more than 850,000 porn and news websites are not enough. It is pretty clear that for these state authoritarians, it is not nearly enough. They want to go after the internet itself and if not the internet connectivity to maintain a facade of modernity, they will neuter it to an unusable state-regulated version.

With the launch of CPEC development projects and the rolling out of the optic fiber link from Khunjerab to Gwadar, one of the biggest fears is the Chinese internet spilling over into Pakistan. While thankfully the CPEC projects in Pakistan have appeared to slow down, it has nevertheless inspired the civil and military bureaucratic despots at the reins of administration in this country.

Unfortunately, the narratives these anti-democratic forces have nurtured for the past seventy years have duped well-meaning conservative citizens into believing that their civil rights and political freedoms are bad for them and for the country. Even in the name of blasphemy and national security, there is no shortage of urban nationalist conservatives in the country who would gladly sacrifice the internet as a public enemy.

The greatest tragedy of all is the fascist administration of PTI, a party that was pretty much built by and through the power of social media, other than a little help of our military establishment of late. More than the duplicitous and malicious leadership of the PTI, the people who would be the greatest losers are the urban educated voters of the party who look down upon the traditional and less privileged voters all across Pakistan. The government they voted in might be infringing on their rights but they have a choice to speak up. Pretty soon this little freedom we have will be gone.

Pakistan still has a lot to lose, which it continues to lose every day.

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Let’s Accept Porn

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

Source: lifeandtrendz.com

What is the best response to a government that proactively blocks porn websites and going out of its way to do so?

The answer is to openly and unashamedly embrace porn, regardless of the attacks from religious conservative and liberal moralists.

In the latest episode, the Pakistan government has moved to block 400,000 porn websites. You can either mourn the indirect ill effects of this monstrous but “necessary” step of internet censorship, or simply call a spade a spade.

Blocking porn is plain and simply wrong. Porn is not. Neither is it immoral. Only the people who act like moral police are.

There is no surprise that the government’s campaign has brought out their usual idiocy and inefficiency of blocking completely unrelated content. What else are you going to expect from a government that is so obsessed with taking public morality measures?

Thanks to our authoritarian government, accessing pornography and erotica could become a human rights issue, if it is not already. Blocking pornography is often justified by religious and moral decency. However, any religious freedom that curtails any other freedoms should be abolished, particularly in this case the access to pornography.

There has been no shortage of criticism, but pretty much all of them have always sounded more like indirect apologies for the supposedly inevitable action. As if it is alright to block porn. They would rightfully mourn the loss of platforms such as tumblr, for not being pornographic, with some accounts possibly containing links to some pornographic material. However, they would completely ignore the loss of access to thousands of porn websites important to millions of others.

For various understandable personal and professional reasons, activists and journalists avoid being vocal against blocking porn. Doing so could be deemed as its endorsement, no wonder a discussion about porn jumps immediately to child pornography (talk about red herring), even if some of them may not have substantial objections to the access of pornography privately.

This is why it is not only necessary for citizens and internet watchdogs to respond to the legal aspects of such internet censorship, but also address the terrible morality of it. And it is important to point out that blocking an adult’s access to pornography is morally objectionable, instead of the pornography content itself.

When the internet started, it became the paradise for libertarians and anarchists. But soon, the ill effects of the freedoms of anonymity began to show as the deep web became the comfortable hideout for data hackers, financial criminals, identity thieves, digital blackmailers, and harassers.

Taking action against them became necessary and the government had to establish its presence online to counter the unrelenting wave of cybercrime which became hard to ignore. With such measures, the governments of the world also took it upon themselves to filter and censor access to information on the internet as it suited their respective ideologies. And why the hell not? In a way, the internet came from the government anyway.

Just like various made up crimes in the penal code of Pakistan, such as blasphemy, attempt to commit suicide and gambling, possessing or displaying pornography or “obscene objects” is yet another crime. We need to convince our lawmakers that it is not, and being guilty about it is not going to help.

There is no need to feel discouraged by reports from journalistic sources crooked with respective ideological agenda such as Fox News and Huffington Post shaming Pakistan for accessing pornography. If indeed these reports are true, let us be proud of them. There is also no need to be ashamed by people discounting the right of accessing pornography of a Muslim majority population, only reflective of common people’s pursuit of freedom.

There is only one way to make voices matter in an environment of suppression. That is to be clear about your rights of freedom of access and freedom of expression.

So let’s not beat about the bush and be vocal about the morality of censorship.

Let’s allow access.

Let’s accept porn.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.