In an authoritarian and internationally embarrassing move, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority announced this month it would introduce an arbitrary ban on texting words it deemed offensive.
Aside from overtly sexually explicit words in both Urdu and English, the list apparently included double entendre favourites such as “hole” and “harder”, and the somewhat perplexing “idiot” and “athlete’s foot.”
Thus texting a complaint to the customer service department of the PTA stating that the policy is idiotic and will make it harder to communicate is out of the question…
In a bid to counter obscenity, the plan was to force mobile phone carriers to introduce filtering measures that would automatically stop the transmission of text messages containing any of the banned words. No consideration was given as to whether this would degrade the quality of network services for the tens of millions of Pakistanis who rely on mobile phones to conduct their lives and businesses.
After the swift and widespread condemnation of the announcement, the initial list of some 1700 words has been revoked and will be reduced to around a dozen, which are now said to be under review by a committee comprising members of civic groups and mobile phone companies.
Bytes for All, a human rights organisation focused on Internet freedom in Pakistan, has slammed the filters as an infringement on freedom of speech.
‘The filters infringe several basic human and fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution, and we think will end up curbing political discourse in the country,’ said Bytes for All country coordinator Shahzad Ahmad.
It’s sadly ironic, but perhaps obvious, that the instrument credited with helping the pro-democracy Arab uprisings earlier this year should now be subject to such outrageous restrictions across the way in Pakistan.
Meegan Cornforth is Events Manager at The Centre for Independent Studies.