Laal's Facebook page being unblocked is not the big win we think it is

Published June 13, 2014
The government took an astonishingly quick U-turn on the ban — File photo
The government took an astonishingly quick U-turn on the ban — File photo

Last week, Pakistan’s social media space was dominated by anti-government sentiments following the countrywide ban on the Facebook page of progressive rock music band, ‘Laal’.

In a blocking spree, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) sent multiple requests to Facebook which blocked various leftist and progressive pages locally.

Also read 'The case of Pakistan's vanishing Facebook pages'

The huge uproar which followed the banning of Laal was expected because the page has a strong social media fan following. While the page has been opened the question remains - what specifically caused it to be blocked in the first place?

Why Laal may have been banned

Possible trigger one: In a fairly recent event, when an anchor of a major media outlet of the country was shot in an attempted target killing, the general public and various other news channels made out the anchor and channel to be "anti-ISI" and anyone supporting the anchor as "anti-army" and an "Indian agent".

Laal, too, expressed an opinion on their page:

“[Hamid] Mir may be right or wrong in his accusation, only evidence will determine that. But this attitude of calling all those who criticise the ISI as traitors is totally ridiculous and deeply fascist. It is the reason why violence, death and destruction continues to flourish in Pakistan.”

Considering anything anti-army is taken almost as seriously as blasphemy in Pakistan, it could be one of the many triggers that the page might have set off.

  Indian Express covers the ban on  Laal — Photo from Laal
Indian Express covers the ban on Laal — Photo from Laal's official Facebook fan page.

Possible trigger two: Dr Taimur Rahman openly talks against the peace negotiations with Taliban:

“Dear negotiations committee. One cannot solve extremism by accepting the Talibanization of Pakistan”, and “Don't bow to the Taliban just because they are violent and aggressive. Fight them.”

Possible trigger three: The group also discussed what has become an unspeakable issue – the missing persons of Balochistan and the hunger protest a youngster went through in the last few months.

Possible trigger four: in line with its pro-Communism standing, Laal also regularly shares revolutionist poetry and passages of figures like Habib Jalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Bhaghat Singh and Marx and Lenin. While the content is in no way near to blasphemy, it does have the potential of triggering a mass movement or inciting people to take action against the government’s shady ways of dealing with terrorism.

Laal unblocked. Yay? Not really

Laal's Facebook page was made accessible in the country after just two days.

Good news? Yes, but not as much as you think.

Be reminded that Laal has a pretty strong fan base, an equally strong support system with reach extending to lawyers, advocacy groups, local and international media.

Other banned page owners who have been blocked cannot fight back in a similar way. Are these people left with any options after they’re banned?

For the record, PTA does not deign to first ask the page owners to take the “immoral” content down before going straight to the court of Facebook.

Interestingly, the PTA Act 1996 does not say anywhere that the regulatory body is allowed to directly put forward requests of blocking web pages.

It is the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Evaluation of Websites (IMCEW), which directs PTA to block content it deems to be against the law. The validity and steps involved in this entire process of ‘requesting’ is quite ambiguous and impossible to challenge, to say the least.

Who is it, really, that’s in-charge here – PTA, IMCEW, MoIT, or some “higher-ups”?

Also read 'A band banned'

Taimur talks about such issues from time to time and has become more aggressive after falling prey to this blocking spree. However, major news outlets don’t cover smaller pages as vigorously as they did in this case.

‘’ and ‘Talibaans Are Zaalimaans’ are only two of the many other pages that remained blocked.

The unblocking of Laal may look like a win, but if you step back and assess the bigger picture, it only reveals the extent to which the government can censor with impunity.

The spontaneous unblocking was clearly a ploy to stop us from creating more outrage.

As such, the unblocking of Laal was a minor battle won in a war we are losing.

Here are some other pages that are equally progressive, anti-Taliban, or anti-capitalism and are devoid of blasphemous content but are still victims to the state blocking spree: Roshni Pakistan TalibaansAreZaalimaans Lashkar e Bhangvi Zalaan Bhensaa Saeenjii



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