After twenty hearings in the Lahore High Court, the Net Freedoms case (commonly known as the Youtube case) has gone into refrigeration, with the petitioner instructed to seek clarification/ interpretation of the original order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan that caused Youtube to be rudely shut down by the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) in September 2012.

Advocate Akram Sheikh had filed a civil miscellaneous application in the middle of an ongoing ‘obscenity on media’ petition at the Supreme Court of Pakistan based on letters to the Chief Justice by Qazi Hussain Ahmed (then leader Jamat e Islami) and Justice (retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed. Oddly, the application was admitted, and an order passed to the Chairman PTA to block all instances of ‘Innocence of Muslims’ from ‘Youtube and all other websites’ in September 2012. PTA, not having any technical means available to make the Great One’s wish its command, and consequently quaking in its boots from fear of He who could strike down Prime Ministers, promptly proceeded to block Youtube in its entirety.

The resultant farce in force ever since is that the ‘objectionable’ and allegedly blasphemous video is available everywhere on the internet, including on Youtube which is accessed using proxies and VPNs. As a result, the Ansar Abbasi and Akram Sheikh variety are happy as bunnies that Youtube remains blocked while the offending video is not. It is not only the offending video in question but an unimaginably vast quantity of other offending material that is constantly produced and made available, and remains available on the internet. But the proponents of bans remain silent on this interesting little problem. As long as they can wield power, the rest doesn’t really matter.

Interestingly, it took over a year of humming and hawing for the government to come up with the legal basis for blocking Youtube, i.e., the order of the Supreme Court justices. Needless to say, it is debatable whether an order to block a particular video from any and all websites is actually a ‘legal’ basis for blocking an entire service. In addition, PTA and the federal government have no explanation for the fact that proxies still make it available to the Pakistani public. Nor do they have any explanation for the fact that they have utterly failed to remove/ block it from innumerable other video sharing sites. Yet, they insist rather bone-headedly to the LHC that they have blocked Youtube ‘in compliance’ of the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s Holy Order of 2012.

Now a little on the operative part of the Holy Orders Sacrament that the PTA and the Ministry of Information Technology (MoIT) are performing: “..(the court) having seen the material, which has been published in newspapers i.e., The News, Dawn etc. and the material, which is going as per the reporting, we direct that Chairman PTA to immediately block the offending material on U-Tube (sic) website and on any other website, referred to hereinabove.” And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.

But the poor disciples landed in the court of Justice Mansoor Ali Shah. It is to the credit of Justice Shah, honourable judge of the LHC, that he has patiently led the disciples not only to water, but also to drink it after a year and a half of painstaking and incisive questioning. The committee formed by him of experts and stakeholders (representing government, regulator, industry and academics) has finally submitted to the LHC in the last hearing held this week that it is technically impossible to comply with the Order; that it is impossible to block anything a hundred percent; that in the age of information, it is impossible to stop the flow of information; that they cannot bring the moon; that the Kingdom of Heaven is not really quite at hand.

The poor disciples commanded to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils, to bind people together in the Sacrament of Morality, to forgive sins had utterly failed. Because The Lord had asked for the moon. Panchi Bawara?

The petitioners, and dare one say, the people, will be back in the Supreme Court of Pakistan soon. They will make submissions about the impossibility of bringing the moon, or even a piece of it. They will pray for sanity. They will pray for rising above the madding crowd that drags society down to a level where at every step there is a blasphemy trap. They will pray for life, for freedom, for joy, for knowledge and for humanity.

The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.

Email:gulnbukhari@gmail.com

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