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Pakistan's version of "The Onion" blocked by government

Khabaristan Times/Facebook

This statement was originally published on digitalrightsfoundation.pk on 31 January 2017.

Khabaristan Times (KT), Pakistan's version of The Onion, has been reportedly blocked in Pakistan since January 25, 2017.

On their Facebook page, KT stated that: "There hasn't been any official notification from any regulatory authority regarding the website being banned, but it can't be accessed anywhere in Pakistan."

This is another instance of growing censorship in Pakistan. It follows the forced disappearances (and return) of bloggers that tackled difficult and controversial subjects. The noose around free speech continues to tighten everyday - to the extent that even a website dealing in satire wasn't able to escape its grasp.

Pakistan has been repeatedly ranked as one of the most dangerous countries for reporters in the world. This is extremely relevant when you take into perspective the fact that KT had amassed several dozen writers, many of whom were journalists. Often the pieces on the website spoke truths that editorial policies would otherwise not allow in mainstream newspapers. For both the writers and the audience, KT became an outlet of sorts.

When probed, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) said that the website was banned after complaints were received from "people and institutions". However, there is no transparency in the entire process. The publication was given no warning, asked no questions, and told nothing before their website was taken down in Pakistan. Even at the time of writing this, no official statement can be found on the PTA website or anywhere else.

This is the reason that we always opposed the powers allotted to the PTA under the new Prevention of Cyber Crimes Act. Without any public debate, without any dialogue, the authority decides what falls under objectionable. An 'institution' can move them to action without any transparency or real discussion. Bigger media houses and even corporate companies can stand tall against them, perhaps. But what happens to websites like KT - whose purpose has never been to make money. It deeply angers and saddens us that in all likelihood this is not a decision people running the show will be able to fight.

What is happening to bloggers, journalists, writers, and now even entire publications, is one of the reasons that the Digital Rights Foundation constantly asks for judicial oversight to all processes. It is not okay for an entire publication to be blacked out by the authorities, who have assumed no obligation on their part to explain their actions.

These are dark times for Pakistan. By blocking KT the message we are sending out to the world is that we can handle absolutely no criticism of our social structures, our weaknesses, our institutions, and everything else - even when it's meted out as a humorous satirical piece.

We stand in solidarity with our friends at Khabaristan Times.

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