KARACHI/LAHORE: Legal representatives of Google Inc. are expected to appear before the Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday, May 16, 2013 to explain the company’s position in the ongoing ‘Bytes For All versus Federation of Pakistan’ 958/2013 aka YouTube Case.
The video-sharing website was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) over ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ a blasphemous movie that angered Muslims around the world. Fearing a violent reaction and the subsequent denial of YouTube to remove the anti-Islam film, the website was blocked on September 18, 2012 on the orders of then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf. The site was back on earlier this year but was blocked once again after a few hours.
Meanwhile, a source close to Google said that the court had directed the Ministry of Information Technology to seek a response from the internet giant on the issue. No Google representative had accepted to appear before the court nor were they summoned, the source added.
In an earlier hearing, held on April 26, 2013, LHC’s Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah had ordered that Google appear on the next hearing and present its stance.
In the said hearing, the petitioner maintained that the only way forward was to ‘allow Google to incorporate and open a Pakistan office.’ Google had not taken this step because Pakistani laws did not provide for Intermediary Liability Protection (ILP), the court was informed.
To this, Justice Shah suggested that as an interim measure, the court through an order ‘can guarantee ILP, which could then be legislated upon.’
In the same hearing, Federal Ministry of Information Technology (MOIT) member (Legal) Mr Kamran was asked to explain the ministry’s position. The MOIT representative said that the ministry ‘recognises the blocking of YouTube as detrimental to freedom of speech.’
Justice Shah had stated that a way must be found to unblock YouTube as soon as possible, while treading carefully vis-à-vis the sensibilities that led to the block. He also suggested devising a regulatory mechanism so that ‘internet censorship does not become an exercise in arbitrary executive action.’
The LHC, in its order, had stated that Google be informed that the court will guarantee intermediary liability protection for it while legislators get around to legislating.
Consequently Google Singapore was sent a notice in this regard.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the counsel for petitioner, advocate Yasser Latif Hamdani said that the YouTube ban took away the right of Muslims to respond to scurrilous attacks on Islam and the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
“The petitioner’s point of view is that all internet curbs are counterproductive and deprive Pakistanis the right to access of information as well as the right to counter any propaganda against the country or against what they believe in strongly.”
The petitioner maintained that efforts were underway to find a middle ground between internet freedom and offensive materials, adding: “Ultimately all curbs would hurt Pakistan more than it will hurt those who are engaging in scurrilous and offensive rhetoric.”
Meanwhile, the LHC has already begun exploring various ways in which Google, the parent organisation of YouTube, can be given Intermediary Liability Protection, so that it may be allowed to come and introduce Youtube.com.pk domain which would allow the reopening of YouTube in the country.
The YouTube Ban has also been challenged in the Peshawar High Court (PHC) by advocate Mian Mohibullah Kakakhel yesterday. He requested the PHC to direct the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and ministry of interior to open the website (www.YouTube.com) for the benefit of public at large.
A Bloody Mess
The immediate ban in September last year did not do much to calm down the angry masses. Despite the fact that majority of the protesters had not seen the offensive clip and had only ‘heard’ about it, the news spread like wildfire.
The Love Our Prophet Day (Yom-e- Ishq-e-Rasool) protests in Pakistan saw at least 23 people dead in Karachi alone on September 21, 2012 as thousands of protesters went on an insanely destructive rampage. In Peshawar, five people including a policeman were killed.
Eight cinemas in Karachi and Peshawar, many banks and shops and a church in Mardan were vandalised and set on fire during the protests. ANP’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, then a cabinet minister, had announced a $100,000 bounty for killing Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the producer of the said film.
The film sparked protests across the Middle East and was even thought to have caused the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya which killed US Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Pakistan Not The Only ‘Complainer’
It is worth noting that Pakistan is not alone in demanding the removal of ‘Innocence of Muslims’. According to Google’s annual Transparency Report, over 20 countries demanded the removal of the said video clip.
The countries that demanded removal of the offensive clip include Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Djibouti, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and the United States.
“Australia, Egypt, and the United States requested that we review the videos to determine if they violated our Community Guidelines, which they did not. The other 17 countries requested that we remove the videos. We restricted videos from view in Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Turkey. Due to difficult circumstances, we temporarily restricted videos from view in Egypt and Libya,” Google stated.
Despite requests by the White House to take the film off its sites, Google firmly refused, stating that ‘the film did not violate its rules or regulations.’