ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Freedoms and Bans in the Politics of Contemporary Pakistan

YouTube has been banned in Pakistan over a controversial blasphemous fi lm since September 2012. Young Pakistani musicians and advocates have been protesting against the ban claiming it to be political censorship and a human rights violation. However, unless activists climb out of virtual space and challenge the rightwing opposition to reforming the blasphemy law itself, the broader fight for freedom of expression and political liberties will be in vain.

Turkey needs to learn a thing or two from Pakistan regarding state repression of political freedoms and how to quell fast-paced dissent. While Recep Tayyip Erdoğan only teases and flirts with banning Twitter and Facebook, Pakistan has clung resolutely to its now two-year ban of YouTube in the country. Turkish bans are attempts to control local political criticism, but Pakistan’s ban has a higher divine purpose. Dating from 2012, the YouTube ban is a punishment (presumably to the site) for hosting a trailer of the blasphemous film, The Innocence of Muslims. Pakistani internet campaigners, mostly younger users, have been lobbying against the removal of the entire site by claiming it an act of “state censorship” and, therefore is despotic and tyrannical.

A comic and irreverent rap music video, Kholo BC (by Adil Omar and Ali Gul Pir), has gone viral on the alternative site Vimeo, and is part of a youth initiative Pakistan for All1 against internet censorship in Pakistan. One of its co-founders Mohammad Jibran Nasir is a young and freethinking independent candidate from Karachi who contested in the national elections in 2013. The song’s success lies in the homonym of its title, Kholo Ban Chor (“open the ban, you thief”, but when said or sung out, “Ban Chor” sounds like the common colloquial abuse “BC”, the often-cited and more “polite” and euphemistic initialism).

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