KARACHI: Readers of the satire website Khabaristan Times were informed in a Facebook post on Monday that the website had been blocked in Pakistan since Wednesday (Jan 25).

According to the post: “...there hasn’t been an official notification from any regulatory authority regarding the website being banned, but it can’t be accessed anywhere in Pakistan. We’ll keep you posted, if there are any updates.”

However, the website can be accessed from outside the country and through different virtual private networks (VPNs) in Pakistan.

A source at the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority said the website had been blocked after receiving complaints about “objectionable content”.

Khabaristan Times (KT), which started in 2014, has a steady following with more than 12,000 likes on Facebook and around 1,000 followers on Twitter. It is run by journalists with tongue-in-cheek commentary on Pakistani politics and the military. Satirical commentaries with controversial headlines like ‘PML-N, PPP relations nosedive as Nawaz receives Zardari’s intimate selfies with Trump’ have often appeared on this website.

PTA yet to issue an official notification in this regard

Talking to Dawn, KT’s CEO Luavut Zahid said Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, the editor, was in Australia at the time when he told her to check if the website might have been blocked in Pakistan. “We learned that it was working at his end but not mine,” she said.

Ms Zahid claimed that they were yet to receive an official notification regarding the block.

“We have blogged for Pakistan Today...when we began KT, the thing on our minds was that we didn’t want to deal with management and those who ask editors to take pieces down.”

According to the website’s editor, he found out that the website had been blocked after a reader sent him a message about it.

He explained that they had decided not to react immediately. “We posted a message on Monday after confirming it. We had to check if there was something wrong tech-wise at our end or if it had indeed been blocked.”

“We haven’t contacted the PTA directly... considering how the situation has been in the last month but we have spoken to them indirectly and they claimed it was because they had received complaints about the material after which they monitored the website and then blocked it,” he explained.

According to Mr Shahid, the website could have been blocked because of two aspects of the publication’s satire — “criticism of the establishment and candid and sometimes blatant critique of religious extremism.”

Farieha Aziz of Bol Bhi, a digital rights organisation, explained that prior to the enactment of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2015-16, “to block a website, [complainants] would have to go through an inter-ministerial committee which would then direct the PTA, which would tell internet service providers (ISPs) and they would then block website...after the [passage of the] Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill, however, the PTA has the full authority to block ‘unlawful content’.”

She said, “As far as KT is concerned, the PTA could do this. If you pick up the law, the PTA has become the direct complaint centre — this is exactly what we were afraid of...they have become the judge, jury and executioner...they [KT] will have to take it up with the PTA or a high court to get their website unblocked.”

Published in Dawn January 31st, 2017



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