Freedom of the Internet? Online Regulation and Censorship in Pakistan

Faheem Zafar, Research Coordinator for Bytes for All Pakistan, analyzes Internet regulation and censorship in Pakistan, focusing on recent attempts to curb civil liberties through Internet filtration.

Despite the appearance of freedom of speech, significant control of today’s traditional media in Pakistan still lies with the establishment and its agencies. Pakistan has a long history of dictatorships, with regimes using intensive oppression to control people’s expression, actions, and identity. Despite some success in Pakistan’s democracy, most recently the exchange of power from one democratically elected government to another, government control over communication channels remain a key issue.

The past decade brought  a powerful, dynamic information flow system into the country – the Internet.  The Internet carried the promise of giving people what they were never allowed to enjoy— the power to make information source choices on their own. According to the latest statistics, Internet penetration in Pakistan is estimated to be well above 15.5%, which is even greater than its neighbor India[1]. Furthermore, youth make up around 65% of Pakistani population, and the majority of Internet users come from this population set[2]. Through the Internet, the stifled youth found fresh air—a new medium where they could express themselves, explore the world around them, and discover the diversity of thoughts that people around the world had to offer, with few restrictions.  Many blogs, citizen’ journalism channels, social media campaigns, and innovative clubs and startups began sprouting over the Internet. Pakistani cyberspace…

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