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Concern about new bid to censor the Internet: HRCP, FIDH

By Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairperson

Lahore, March 13: On the occasion of the international day of action against Internet censorship, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), have expressed deep concern over an attempt by the Ministry of Information Technology in Pakistan to further restrict freedom of expression, creativity and peaceful thought on the Internet, by projecting an extensive filtering system that will, if implemented, allow authorities to block up to 50 million “undesirable” URLs at the national level.

The National ICT R&D Fund of the Ministry of Information Technology released in February a call inviting academia/research institutions, companies, organizations to submit, by 16 March 2012, a proposal for the set-up of a filtering system. The call claims that Internet access in Pakistan is mostly unrestricted and unfiltered, so that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and backbone providers in the country need a high-performance system to block millions of URLs containing “undesirable” content as notified by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

Censorship is already very tight in Pakistan; 13,000 websites considered guilty of publishing adult and blasphemous content have already been blocked. On 14 November 2011, authorities requested mobile operators to censor the content of SMS and ban 1,600 words and expressions. Over the last summer, operators received the order to submit lists of Internet users trying to escape censorship, which corresponds to a system of surveillance”, said Zohra Yusuf, HRCP chairperson.

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