The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority is taking some major criticism after sending a letter to mobile phone companies saying they should block text messages containing certain words and phrases, and among those phrases are “Jesus Christ” and “got Jesus.”
According to the letter, Pakistanis have the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but these freedoms are “subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam,” among other things.
The letter and the two lists containing the banned words and phrases were posted on the Bytes For All (BFA) website. BFA, a human rights organization in Pakistan made up of information and communication technology professionals and users, is outraged over the ban.
The letter establishes “harmful, fraudulent, misleading, illegal or unsolicited messages in bulk to any person without express permission of the recipient” as spam, and says it is the responsibility of telecommunications companies to block such messages. The PTA sent each company two lists, which combined contain over 1,600 words in both English and Urdo that the government considers to be impermissible.
Most of the words on the list are vulgar and sexual in nature, but some have drawn attention from critics for either being odd – such as “athletes foot,” “deposit,” “fart,” and “K Mart” – or for appearing to be discriminatory against Christians.
BFA expressed its concerns about the “moral policing” in Pakistan, and how it will affect the nation's citizens, in an article posted to the organization's website Friday.
“It is a matter of utmost concern for Pakistani citizens, for this decision is not just oppressive & hegemonic, but unconstitutional as well,” the BFA article states.
It later says, “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.”
BFA is also critical of the authority's decision to ban “Jesus Christ.”
“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 article says.
Other Pakistani's are taking to Twitter to express their disagreement with the PTA's decision to ban certain words.
“Dear #PTA, Please don't turn my text conversations with my friends into one way affairs,” wrote Kashif Malim on his Twitter account. Many Twitter users have made jokes about the list, while others have begun looking for a way around it so they can use whatever words they want to.
“To everyone complaining in Pakistan about #PTABannedList, let me remind u, not many PTA officials use twitter,” wrote Jawad Rehman, a Pakistan native, on his account.
BFA says it plans on challenging the legality of the list in court, arguing that the ban is a clear violation of citizen's rights according to the Pakistani constitution.