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Authorities step up surveillance of online content

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to abandon their Internet censorship plans after representatives of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) told the Lahore high court that it will comply with a 22 June 2010 ruling ordering it to monitor certain websites and block links to "blasphemous" and "sacrilegious" content.

"The situation of online free expression is deteriorating in Pakistan," the press freedom organisation said. "The vice has been tightening since access to Facebook was blocked in mid-May. The country seems to want massive Internet surveillance and is moving towards a targeted filtering system that is neither transparent nor respectful of rights and freedoms."

Among the sites to be kept under watch are Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail, YouTube, Google, Islam Exposed, In the Name of Allah, Amazon and Bing. Thirteen sites have already been blocked including http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com , http://www.middle-east-info.org , http://www.faithfreedom.org , http://www.thereligionofpeace.com , http://www.abrahamic-faith.com , http://www.muhammadlied.com , http://www.prophetofdoom.net , http://www.worldthreats.com , http://www.voiceofbelievers.com and http://www.walidshoebat.com .

The court issued its ruling in response to a petition from Pakistan lawyer and activist Muhammad Siddiq for the blocking of all sites with blasphemous content. Siddiq is also responsible for a blasphemy complaint against Facebook's executives that Reporters Without Borders has already condemned.

Representing the federal government, deputy attorney general Muhammad Hussain Azad supported the request for the blocking of sites.

Article 295-C of the Pakistani criminal code says: "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a fine."

The court has scheduled its next hearing on this matter for 22 September.

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