Pakistan: Students slam unfettered freedom of speech

Thursday, May 20, 2010
By Rabia Ali

Karachi: The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has made life easier for those who were planning to bid farewell to their Facebook accounts to protest the ‘Everybody draw Muhammad Day’ event, by issuing a blanket ban of the entire website.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the PTA public relations director said that the social networking site has been banned all over Pakistan till further notice, and all operators concerned have been directed to comply with the directions issued by Ministry of IT & Telecom (MoIT) in view of the decision of the Lahore High Court (LHC).

The controversy, which began with a popular animated TV series, South Park, eventually overflowed on to Facebook, where a group of artists got together and decided to invite other artists to sketch caricatures Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) on May 20, or what they referred to as ‘Draw a Muhammad Day’.

A majority of the Facebook using community in Pakistan comprises students and youngsters. Incensed by the May 20 event, they told The News that concrete steps should be taken to prevent of such “untoward incidents” in the future. “I am happy that the website has been banned in the country because the Facebook administration had not taken any stance against the derogatory event,” said Muhammad Farooq, a student of Iqra University. “Popular websites such as Facebook should implement policies which do not attack religions and faiths.”

Similarly, a Aqsa Tariq, a social sciences student at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist), appreciated the ban of the website. “The sentiments of millions of Muslims have been hurt by these artists who are demeaning our religion and following the footsteps of the Danish cartoonists. The sanctity of every religion should be protected,” she claimed.

Earlier, more than 43,000 users had joined groups vowing to boycott Facebook, specially on May 20, to protest the event. Many others had called for censuring hate groups against Islam and Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh). Some, on the other hand, had opted to celebrate ‘Bless Prophet Muhammad Day’ instead of shunning Facebook on May 20. “The decision to ban the website won’t do any good since the website is accessible through proxy websites and cell phones. I believe that the rational way to protest such incidents is to report the webpage and register complaints with the Facebook administration,” said Yamna Sultan, a student at the Institute of Business Administration.

An auditing student, Saad Mansoor, said that instead of boycotting the website, Muslims should honour the prophet by following his teachings. “’Draw a Muhammad Day’ was not an official Facebook event. Under such circumstances, Muslims should simply report the page so that it can be blocked by the Facebook administration,” he said.

To get the message across, some students of the University of Karachi (KU) are distributing a booklet which tells Facebook users how to report the webpage. “I used penciled comic strips in order to raise awareness. Around 500 booklets have been distributed so far to tell students how to protest peacefully against the event. What the artists are doing is not freedom of expression, but freedom of defamation,” Ema Ansari, a student of the KU mass communication department, told The News.

Another student, Ahsan Raza, said that apart from banning the website, activities should be organised to promote tolerance and inter-faith harmony.

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