The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has come under criticism after it ordered mobile phone companies to block text messages with certain words and phrases. The human rights group Bytes For All has said it plans to challenge the order in court.
Digital Journal reported the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) sent to mobile phone companies in Pakistan a confused medley of words and phrases deemed "obscene" and "indecent." The list included two unlikely allies from the Christian perspective, "Jesus Christ" and "Satan."
Bytes For All (BFA), a human rights organization in Pakistan, posted the list online.
The message to mobile phone companies to block "indecent and obscene" words and phrases, including "Jesus Christ" and "Satan," acknowledged that Pakistanis have the right to freedom of speech and expression, but the telecommunication authority said the freedom of Pakistanis was subject to restrictions as prescribed by law "in the interest of the glory of Islam."
The unwieldy list, which contained over 1,600 words, included mostly words that are commonly considered vulgar and others of a sexual nature. But inclusion of some words such as "athletes foot," "K Mart," "period," "tampon," "flatulence," "headlights" seem inexplicable.
Bytes For All (BFA) expressed concern about unwarranted "moral policing" of Pakistanis. The BFA, according to The Christian Post, criticized the inclusion of "Jesus Christ" in the list of banned words:
“We also condemn this fact that while indulging themselves in this hideous task of moral policing, PTA managed to hurt the religious feelings of many Pakistani Christians by adding 'Jesus Christ' in banned word list. If such thing happened in any other country, there would be an outrage already and if it was directed (mistakenly or intentionally) towards Muslims, the amount of an outrage would be uncontrollable."
The human rights group complained about intrusion of the Pakistan authorities in the privacy of citizens:
“It is a matter of utmost concern for Pakistani citizens, for this decision is not just oppressive & hegemonic, but unconstitutional as well...Once the authorities are allowed to filter SMS messages to ban abusive words, the restriction shall eventually not be limited to abusive words, rather, further fire the campaign to oppress the society by controlling its access to all kinds of information.”
Many Pakistanis have expressed their displeasure at the PTA's list. The Christian Post quotes a Pakistani who posted a message to the PTA on his Twitter account:
"Dear #PTA, Please don't turn my text conversations with my friends into one way affairs"
Some Pakistanis, according to the BBC, are wondering how Imams will send messages preaching against "Satan" if text messages including the word "Satan" have been banned. The BBC reports other Pakistanis have wondered who the creative genius was in the Pakistani bureaucracy who came up with such a comprehensive list of "indecent and obscene" words which includes all possible misspellings of "masturbation" but does not include the same word if correctly spelled.
Daily Mail reports the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has so far refused to comment on its new instructions to mobile phone companies, but it defended the legality of its order in the message to phone companies by referring to a 1996 law which prevents people from sending information that is "false, fabricated, indecent and obscene."
Mobile phone companies in Pakistan were given seven days to implement the new order.