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Pakistan's Sindh Province Proposes Block on Skype, Viber and WhatsApp

Categories: South Asia, Pakistan, Breaking News, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Law, Technology

The Sindh provincial government [1] in Pakistan has unveiled its plan for a three-month ban on messaging apps Viber, WhatsApp, Tango, Skype and other Voice Over Internet Protocol-based calling and messaging applications in what officials call an “disrupt terrorist and criminal activities in the province, especially in the urban areas”.

Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Memon shared this news in a press conference [2] on Thursday, 4 October, 2013 in the southern port city of Karachi. The Sindh government is waiting for an approval from the federal government in Islamabad.

Mobile Social Applications. Image from Flickr by Nurudin Jauhar [3]

Mobile Social Applications. Image from Flickr by Nurudin Jauhari. CC BY-SA

This is not the first ban on social media services in Pakistan. YouTube [4] has been banned [5] for more than a year and Facebook has been blocked on multiple occasions.

Organisations and activists protested against the proposed ban on messaging apps, calling it another curb to the fundamental rights and freedom of expression. Bolo Bhi [6], an advocacy, policy and research non-profit, issued an immediate press release [7]:

This is a violation of fundamental rights of citizens and an acceptance from the government that they have failed to uphold law & order by resorting to ad hoc measuring and disrupting communications. Access should not be a victim to national security.

The government must focus on improving the law and order situation in the city instead of further restricting the rights of its citizens. There are other, more efficient methods to counter terrorism without compromising citizen’s basic rights to access and communication.

Netizens were also quick to react on Twitter. Writer [8] Fatima Bhutto (@fbhutto [9]) tweeted:

Usama Bin Nasar (@ubinnasar [13]) was sarcastic:

Faizan Lakhani (@faizanlakhani [16]) doubted that the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) would approve:

Imran Ali (@imranaliwattoo [18]) avised people how best to react to the proposed ban: