THREE days after the lifting of the wholesale ban on the Blogspot domain in Pakistan, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) appears to have resumed its blocking of the entire popular free blog hosting domain. Problems with accessing the said domain were reported on May 6, verified by dozens of Internet activists across the country.
“It just seems that this cat-and-mouse game was probably played out just to appease the world during the annual World Press Freedom Day which was held on May 3,” said Dr. Awab Alvi of the Don’t Block the Blog campaign. “Ironically it was the same day that the entire ban was lifted and we were actually patting each other on the back for a job well done. Who knew that three days later we were again to land flat on our face?”
Alvi said the “brief period of freedom followed by the censorship” has only made them even more determined to create change. “We will fight them to the nail and I assure you with good support from you and other international agencies we can indeed dream of knocking some common sense into the bureaucracy.”
King Gyanendra of Nepal demonstrated in 2005 the full force of hatred a head of state can harbour towards the press. The Himalayan monarch, who is drawn to absolutism, was responsible for more than half of all recorded censorship cases worldwide. The royal administration censored news in the country’s many publications and on independent radio stations a total of 567 times. Journalists who resisted him by streets demonstrations and in the courts forced him to back down to some extent. This unprecedented campaign even ended in a general strike after an independent radio had its broadcast equipment seized.
The picture in Nepal typifies the struggle throughout Asia with the old demons of totalitarianism. North Korea, a graveyard for freedom, is still in the grip of numbing propaganda from its leader Kim Jong-il. In Burma, the military tries to keep everything under control by imposing relentless advance censorship. While China, a burgeoning power, keeps its journalists in a state of servitude to bias. In Laos, journalists have been turned into bureaucrats with no chance of contradicting the line of the sole ruling party.
DR. Awab Alvi just emailed to announce this recent piece of good news. He says the Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) has recently removed the blanket ban on Blogspot yesterday, hence allowing majority of bloggers in Pakistan free access to their blog accounts hosted on Blogspot.
Below is the news release:
Yesterday, on 3rd May 2006, after almost two months since the initial ban was imposed, the Alvi-e Team, comprised of Dr. Awab Alvi and Omer Alvie, and supported by tens of bloggers worldwide joining under the “Don’t Block the Blog” banner are pleased to report that they again have access to Blogspot blogs in Pakistan. The PTA (Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) had, on the 3rd of March 2006, blocked access to a number of websites for the Internet users in Pakistan. This ban was in response to a list submitted by Supreme Court decision dated 2nd March 2006 instructing the PTA to ban 12 offending websites which highlighted the blasphemous cartoons on the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In adherence to the Supreme Court ruling, all 12 sites were blocked including one that was hosted on the Blogspot domain. But rather than block the offending Blogspot website, the PTA blocked the entire domain which happens to be one of the most popular blog hosting domains hosting approximately upwards of ten million blogs globally.
We believe that this development can be credited to the collective efforts of dozens of free speech activists of the Don’t Block the Blog Campaign and the Action Group Against Blogspot Ban in Pakistan. The peaceful activities were primarily responsible for creating a massive awareness campaign nationally (within Pakistan), as well as internationally.
3 May 2006
This year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations focus on a free and independent media’s importance in ridding the world of poverty and all its ills. Where the press is restricted and where journalists are threatened, the accountability of governments are weakened, and social scourges feed upon each other in a vicious cycle.
This reminder from UNESCO carries ominous warnings for societies the world over, and is especially relevant for the people and leaders of Southeast Asia. Countries such as Burma, Vietnam, Brunei, and Laos, for starters, stand as glaring reminders of how repressive regimes and intolerant leaders can deprive entire their citizens not only of rights, but also of their full potentials for development and economic upliftment. It is no coincidence that poverty is acute where civil and human rights are denied—where journalists and writers are routinely arrested and imprisoned for their work—and people’s very access to independent information is always under threat.
Even Singapore, with its glistening skyscrapers, robust economy, and political leaders living in mansions, is challenged to fully confront the reality of senior citizens scavenging for meals and rent money, now that pensions and welfare are being proven insufficient.
IN a survey conducted during the conference, delegates identified needs and strategies on how to better protect cyberspace in Asia in the areas of technology, capacity-building/training, funding/business model, reach expansion, and issues of safety, defense and advocacy. Below are the results of the survey. Please call my attention to any entry that I may have erroneously interpreted in the process of transferring the results from the matrix format.
MEDIA SUPPORT AND DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATIONS
- Provide technical tools, hosting, knowledge-sharing (in terms of expertise and relevant tools)
- Trainings in different countries on the following topics: website development, ICT, journalism, investigative journalism, podcasting, blogging, media management, CMS (content management system), web business models
- How to raise funds
- hold programs in rural areas
- provide networking support in Asia
- help in information dissemination regarding Forum for Media Alternatives’s (FMA) research and trainings
- spearhead an anti-web censorship advocacy campaign
- increase membership by including lawyers, activists
- create a network of bloggers
- improve capacity to make available PDF e-books on government censorship
- go beyond Southeast Asia
PODCASTS of the presentations during the first day, as well as the rest of the second day, of the conference are now available. Click on the links below:
THE third and final day of the conference is devoted to learning tools and mechanisms for protecting Asian cyberspace. Nart Villeneuve of the Toronto-based Citizen Lab and Ethan Zuckerman of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School are currently handling the day-long technical sessions on two levels:
- first, knowing if you’re being blocked, censored or monitored, and
- second, knowing the Web tools for anonymizing and getting around blocking, filtering and monitoring
ANDREW Lih kept everybody glued to their seats beyond the duration of his session with a very interesting presentation on wikis and online collaboration tools. The conference in fact envisions the use of such online tools for continuing collaboration and discussions, and the building of an Asian network for the defense of free expression in cyberspace.
HERE are more video clips documenting some of today's sessions:
- Tesco’s billion-baht defamation suits threaten free speech in Thailand
- Press freedom, free expression decline in Southeast Asia in 2007
- Philippines among worst-ranked countries in press freedom index
- Litmus test for Thailand’s ruling military council: Leave the press alone
- Media, free expression under threat in wake of coup — SEAPA
- Merdeka Day thoughts on media freedom
- On Merdeka eve, free speech online gets a ‘blackeye’
- SEAPA joins the blogosphere
- Charges against James Gomez dropped; passport returned
- James Gomez harassed by Singapore authorities
- Blogspot domain being blocked again in Pakistan
- RSF 2006 report: Asia still plagued by the old demons of authoritarianism
- Southeast Asian Press Alliance
- Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
- Article 19
- Reporters Without Borders
- Jeff Ooi | Screenshots
- Nepali Times
- Pakistan Press Foundation
- United We Blog!
- Don’t Block the Blog
- Global Voices Online
- Committee to Protect Journalists
- Citizen Lab
- Berkman Center for Internet and Society
- Ethan Zuckerman | My Heart’s in Accra
- Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
- Southeast Asian Center for E-Media
- Rebecca MacKinnon | RConversation
- James Gomez | JGNews
- Open Net Initiative
- Dr. Awab Alvi | Teeth Maestro
- Manuel Quezon III
- Journalism and Media Studies Center, University of Hong Kong
- Max Limpag | Leon Kilat: The Cybercafe Experiments
- Ellen Tordesillas
- Carol Arguillas | Mindanao Alerts
- CMFR’s Freedom Watch
- Sun Star Blog Chronicles
- Erwin Oliva | cyberbaguioboy
- John Nery | Newsstand
- Dean Jorge Bocobo | Philippine Commentary
- Philippine Network Foundation
- Foundation for Media Alternatives
- Open Society Institute
- Prachatai Daily
- Kom Chad Luek
- Institute of Policy Studies (Singapore)
- Vernon Totanes | Filipino Librarian
- Andrew Lih